Intertwining glass with fabric, wood, and a vast array of found objects, Paula Mandel’s mixed media sculptures take shape as physical emblems of the subconscious world. Mandel compares her work to “symbolic toys” ironically calling out to be played with despite their material delicacy and one-of-a-kind singularity. Indicative of more than just her artistry as a glass technician, Mandel’s work envelops the fading practicality of ancient objects with a sense of newfound mystique and imaginative wonder.
Each “toy” brings with it an intricate history enclosed in the more recognizable image of a familiar relic. Mandel’s Machinations is reminiscent of a dream in the way it softens the unlikely combination of a nest, a beehive, and a bundt pan with something traditionally functional, a guitar. The symbolism that echoes between Mandel’s pieces and the world they all occupy aids in rebounding from the esoteric and manifesting instead, a chance for self-reflexive discussion. The many components involved in Mandel’s work operate as active factors that play out within contained worlds or reenacted scenarios. In this sense, Mandel’s “toys” are also playful in the way they negotiate specific language and become mechanisms for discreetly confronting heavy subject matter. The Threat That Binds us presents two portraits encased in a box adorned with sewing pins and fabric. The title of the piece replaces the lighthearted word we might expect, “thread,” with the additional edge of the more unsettling word “threat.” Sunrise Sunset also vivifies contrasting descriptions, though with a slight touch of humor, replicating both the enchanting moments of the night and the laborious hours of the day in the entrapment of watch parts and sunset paintings inside an outdated butter churner.
Conceptualizing individual parts in relation to a finalized and manipulated whole appears intrinsic to Mandel’s creative process, especially when considering that her kiln-cast technique involves filling molds with crushed glass that only becomes solid sculpture after it fires in the kiln. To build a more painterly effect, Mandel layers glass together at low heat, a setting in which colors conjoin and collaborate in unpredictable ways. The interactive presence of these pieces is multifold, given that they can recall memories of the past while simultaneously, like a childhood toy, they can propose a means of exploring alternative fantasies and resolutions. Such explorations are unlimited by a rigidly defined body or temporal breadth, as they welcome experimentation and inspire reevaluation.
Dressing Room brings societal insecurities to the stage, stringing different miniature body parts onto an abacus as if to poke fun at the constant assessment and game of questioning that pressures the body to change. Similarly creating a sanctuary for mindful rumination, Insight (Hazak) Chair is decorated with a deconstructed clock that notably lacks its usual ticking hands. It exists in a makeshift moment of frozen time where the imagination is free to disassociate from what is known and engage more with what could be and what may still come.
Recycling past paraphernalia into uncanny creations, it appears as though Mandel’s work voyages across time while wistfully catching glimpses of an intangible and fluctuating present.