Stephen Yusko: The Way Things Go, at the Sculpture Center
The Five-Mile Crib, ironically located about three and a half miles off Lake Erie’s shore, is something on which locals can depend. Every time we open a spigot, the flowing water is in part collected at the crib. Of the four Cleveland-area water intakes, it is the only one that has a visible component. Hence, while freighters and recreational vessels come and go, the distinct orange and white crib is always there. Peer out from nearly anywhere along the shoreline, and the sight of the Five-Mile Crib will offer comfort, however subtle: There it is, just like it’s supposed to be.
Stephen Yusko’s latest effort, The Way Things Go, a solo exhibition that opened earlier this month in The Sculpture Center, exposes the dire vulnerability of such comfort.
Positioned next to three images of Lake Erie, including one of the Five-Mile Crib looking much like a ghost ship, Tilt is one of a dozen offerings from the metalsmith in the center’s Main Gallery. It features a model-sized house (a reference to the crib) situated in a forged steel cup on a cantilever wall mount. A long pendulum extends from the bottom of the structure through a hole in the rounded cup. Nearly reaching the floor, it resembles a drip, or plumb bob, or perhaps an amulet. Despite its meticulous complexity, the sculpture is visually simple and pleasing as it sits in perfect balance. But if that exposed pendulum is disturbed, the little house tilts. If the house were to become unbalanced, it would also tilt.
“I titled it Tilt because I was thinking about a pinball machine,” said Yusko during an Oct. 15 exhibition walk-through. “When the pinball machine game tilts, it’s game over.” Hence even despite the stalwart wall mount, which he likens to a citadel, everything here is at risk.
Is our reliable water intake in danger of capsizing? Not likely, but the commentary defining Tilt stretches far beyond the shores of Lake Erie. “This house structure is made of nine components,” said Yusko, “like the Supreme Court is made up of nine justices.” And at once the balance reference incorporated in Tilt utterly transforms.
“With the way things are going within our political system,” said Yusko, “we are so close to our nation being ‘game over.’ And that’s not hyperbole, that really could happen.”
Other offerings include the show’s namesake, The Way Things Go, in which two houses share a would-be Hot Wheels track: one positioned precariously close to the track’s abrupt end, the other frozen nearly upside down on the loop. Long thin trestle legs support it all, however asymmetrically. This neighborhood might be forged in steel, but it sure feels as if something could go wrong any minute, or maybe it already has.
Drift, the one sculpture visitors are invited to touch, consists of a seven-foot pole with yet another tiny house perched at its top. Touch it and the house gently waves through the space courtesy of a heavy base with a rounded bottom. It’s playful, even fun—unless you are one of the tiny imaginary people inside. At first blush, the show’s most devastating offering, Collateral Cathedral: Your Huddled Masses, appears to be a modest chapel in miniature, further inspection reveals that it is composed of steel harvested from decommissioned guns, complete with a revolver’s cylinder ejector depicting the rose window.
There is more to explore. Environmental commentary informs sculptures incorporating steam-bent white oak, some of the works include messages communicated in words or Morse code, and a collection of forged and formed steel samples celebrates the artist’s craft while inviting dialog.
The whimsical nature of The Way Things Go is undeniable, from that looping track to houses evoking the plastic units lining a Monopoly board, but the takeaway is also unmistakable: the stability of our society, our country, our world, and our own lives is in perilously close to crumbling.
STEPHEN YUSKO: THE WAY THINGS GO | THROUGH DECEMBER 17, 2021
Related: Artist Guided Tour of Wendy Park Gateway Sculptures, Saturday, October 23, 2021, 10–11 a.m., north entrance to Wendy Park Bridge, 2800 Whiskey Island Drive. Donation in any amount required for tickets. Details and registration link here.
Read more from Erin O’Brien about the Wendy Park Gateway Sculptures here.
Also on view:
LAUREN KALMAN: FLOURISH WITH EXCERPTS FROM DEVICES FOR FILLING A VOID | THROUGH DECEMBER 17, 2021
The Sculpture Center
1934 East 123rd Street
Cleveland, OH 44106