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Felis Stella
at L2kontemporary, L.A. Chinatown, California
Preview by Michael Shaw

IKEA inspired art sounds like an oxymoron, but Felis Stella brings mixes an informed etymological interest with just enough creative mischief.

As the purveyor of one of our most ubiquitously consumed cultural commodities, IKEA has served as muse for numerous artistic incarnations, most notably among them Jonathan Coulton\'s eponymous song; the successful Illeana Douglas-starring web series “Easy to Assemble;” and another web series, the soap parody “IKEA Heights,” which really pushed the envelope, at least legally, by filming illicitly within the readymade sets of IKEA\'s Burbank outlet. Given the context of such an endeavor, one can\'t help but will to believe that Felis Stella\'s photo \"GUTVIK,\" in which a sexually engaged couple is mounted atop the upper level of a child\'s bunk bed, was the result of an even racier, staged covert production of its own; alas, the image was Photoshopped (GUTVIK, by the way, was a short-lived IKEA product name taken from a small Norwegian town, that also reads as \"good fuck\" in German).

Though “GUTVIK” is Stella\'s most attention-grabbing image in her “IKEA My House III” series, it\'s also atypical - her intentions are etymological rather than sensational, though many of the other works are tinged with their own whiffs of mischief. Stella traces several IKEA items - ones that she either owns or has at some point owned - to the sources of their names, and then provides them with a deadpan reunion: A LYCKSELE-covered chair perches innocuously at the base of a grass and weed-covered, pyramid-shaped storage facility in the town of the same name; a KLIPPAN sofa lies across the train tracks in front of the KLIPPAN train station; and a MALM bed frame, made up with comforter and pillows, rests on a snow-covered field, with the placid hilly landscape of the night-lit, eponymously-named small town looming just beyond.

Stella was born in the former Soviet Union, and her arrival in the States sans English led to a non-native\'s appreciation of language. Pair that with the fact that Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA\'s founder, is dyslexic, and you have the foundation of this ongoing project. By dint of his dyslexia, Kamprad decided to title each item by name rather than alpha-numerically, a move which has clearly had a profound effect on the company, to the point of being inseparable from its identity. And so Stella\'s project, in that light, is an oddly warm tribute to the man and the brand (and, as a literal tribute, an archival black and white photo of Kamprad\'s home town of Elmtarid is included; in it, some early IKEA packages await pickup on an old-school delivery platform, while a more recent photo of Kamprad is convincingly Photoshopped into the foreground).

As opposed to her (distant) cultural brethren, who use IKEA as their personal props, Stella takes her beloved furniture out into the landscape, a gesture that, while seemingly cheeky and conceptual, in fact has the most basic queries at its premise: what do these words mean, and how do they now “make meaning” in culture? Where do they come from? Often they\'re simply places, not just in Sweden but also in Norway, locations presumably unknown outside Scandinavia. For Stella, each piece becomes its own word play, going from object to name, and then on to its place of origin; it\'s akin to a taxonomy of commodities. Or, in the case of POÄNG, which translates as \"point,\" the name source is a more general place; Stella chose a rocky perch hovering above the Grand Canyon as the dramatic viewing point for a blue-cushioned version of this chaise – with ottoman - to rest, a poetic gesture that almost falls within the range of forward-thinking contemporary advertising, but whose visual conceit is ultimately just a tad too existential to be ad-friendly.  

The show also includes a few portraits, pairing humans with an accompanying IKEA item. In FELICIA, the artist\'s own self-portrait, she stands facing a pair of tall French doors, which are flanked by dark purple FELICIA curtains, and she wears a red and green dress, the red skirt of which is made from FELICIA curtains. Stella later transformed that skirt into a top, a top which heralds the start of the next phase in Stella\'s ongoing commitment to the IKEA oeuvre, IKEAWEAR. So the next time the couple from GUTVIK is photographed, they may be clothed, making them fully fit for one of those illicit shoots I\'ve been pining for.


Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2011


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