Zonkeys exist. Well, they're not called zonkeys, exactly; zebra-donkey hybrids, first bred in the early 19th century by a crazy chap known as Lord Morton and present in Darwin's studies, are technically known as zebroids. But Stacey M. Holloway, a Herron sculpture instructor whose solo show Neither Here Nor There is up through Jan. 6 at Gallery 924, calls them zonkeys. And in one of her sculptures at Gallery 924, her zonkey is more donkey than zebra, in that it's a beast of burden, towing a wooden teardrop trailer.
For Holloway, the piece is more than a clever riff or demonstration of her sculpting prowess, though it is both those things. She feels herself betwixt and between at this stage in her life. The zonkey's trailer is her “idea of taking your life experiences with you; that home travels with you until you reach that sense of home.”
The zonkey is a liminal figure, not unlike Holloway, 28, herself. She's not sure if she's a sheep in wolf's clothing, or the other way around. She has to act as an authority figure in her job — her ultimate goal is to become a full-time professor, though she spends much of her time as a technician at Herron, teaching a class or two each semester. But she's still “vulnerable and shy and quiet” underneath. She presents as composed and assured, but her pigtails and hoodie are hardly imposing. There's also a touch of the tomboy to her, perhaps because she spends a lot of her time bending rebar and hacking at wood, although she thinks of herself as a artist, full-stop, rather than specifically a sculpture artist.
Her search for home took her across the Midwest this summer, on three trips funded by the $20,000 grant she received as a 2010 Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellow. Accompanied by a student, she visited outsider art destinations like Dr. Evermor's Art Park, an avant-steampunk collection of scrap metal sculptures in Sumpter, Wisc., and St. Louis' City Museum, a P. T. Barnum-style, curio-packed fun house. She stopped by more highly-trafficked tourist traps, such as Mount Rushmore and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D., which she says was disappointing.
There were unexpected finds: in Metropolis, Ill., which makes touristic hay of being the birthplace of Superman, she was surprised to find that floods were a nearly ritual for townspeople. (A house on stilts she saw in Metropolis directly inspired a miniature found in Neither Here Nor There.) “Tud” Kohn's field of model airplanes in Elberfield, Ind., was another unexpected pleasure; she says it was her favorite stop on her first trip.
It was all in the effort to better know her homeland: “I'm making work about the Midwest, but I've only lived in two areas of the Midwest,” says Holloway, who grew up in South Bend, and lived and studied in Minneapolis before moving to Indianapolis to take her current job at Herron. As much as the destinations, she found it inspiring to see the landscapes, to ruminate on and take pictures of empty billboards. Structures alien to the landscape such as cell phone towers and transformers moved her as well: “They're visually appealing to me because they look like monsters, which is in line with a dream-like aesthetic I like to go with.”
The Efroymson fellowship, designed to aid and abet artists in their work, seems to have worked in the intended way in Holloway's case: “I spend a lot of time in my studio, so this trip gave me a chance to do things that were very Midwestern. My family has always been busy, so we never really went on vacations.” She had already visited some outsider art destinations as part of a college field trip, but this gave her a chance to further explore. Not that she likes the term “outsider” art, which unnecessarily exiles certain artists from the fine art world. But she uses the term because it's familiar, and she identifies with the approach of certain outsider artists she visited — in their effort to create unique, representational art that says something concrete and auto-biographical and that can readily speak to a wider audience.
Holloway made her trip a supplemental element to the Neither Her Nor There show, with materials in the anteroom to Gallery 924 telling the story: Pushpins mark her travels on a map of the Midwest; scrapbooks detail her visits via photographs and other ephemera. She ended up using the bulk of her grant money on materials, though. A typical sculpture starts with a drawing, which she then renders in rebar. She then covers the rebar in blocks of foam, which she glues together with the industrial-grade sealant Great Stuff. After carving out the basic shape, she covers the foam in Bondo, which gives the structure strength and allows her to do more detail work.
The structure finally complete, she covers the animals in music box flocking, giving the animals a furry, taxidermied look. Indeed, Holloway sometimes uses taxidermy materials, including glass eyes that are used in each of the full-size animal sculptures in her show.
Aside from the zonkey, two deer and a jackalope play key roles in the show. One deer is propped on stilts; the other has a muzzle-loader embedded in its head instead of a muzzle. The deer on stilts connotes vulnerability: “It's all a balancing act when you grow up and get older: sometimes it's uneasy; sometimes you get scared.” The muzzle-loader deer is more aggressive: “I started thinking about a muzzle-loader, and I was like, 'I want to turn her into a gun.' It's a way of giving her a defense.”
The jackalope, quite simply, fascinates Holloway: “I love the idea: In order to catch one, you have to put whiskey out. And the jackalope kind of mocks you, taking on different voices.” Holloway's jackalope is rendered in two parts: the hind end of the animal is seen burrowing into artificial turf that lines the floor of the trailer pulled by the zonkey, and the jackalope's head is seen popping out the ground on the other side of the wall. It's as if the viewer is turned upside down as she heads from one sculpture to the other.
Holloway has been sculpting since she was a freshman in college; it's her way “to show a self portrait without the self,” to engage with human emotions and concerns without actually depicting human beings. Even when she can potentially depict human beings — as in a miniature landscape akin to a model train set — she chooses not to. It's like in the movie Village of the Damned, she says, when all humankind is frozen for a moment: “I love that idea of complete solitude. I'll have animals, cars, houses and telephone poles that remind you there's people living here, but I never use actual people.”