Inna Babaeva: Luminous Bodies
Glass is an art medium that often gets overlooked. While traditional mediums like ceramics have gained widespread recognition in the art world, glass has yet to receive such attention. Glass, however, possesses remarkable qualities. Its fragility, for instance, can evoke a unique sense of vulnerability that few other materials can. Its visual properties, such as transparency, opacity, and luminosity seem inexhaustible, while physically-speaking glass can be voluminous, hollow, solid, buoyant, molded, blown, fused, or cast. The potential of glass it seems is only limited by one’s imagination. Such are the qualities that have been investigated in the sculptural works of contemporary artist Inna Babaeva, where she utilizes the material to highlight the brilliance of shape, color, and texture.
Babaeva has been an active artist for the past two decades. During this time, her work has transcended material constraints while maintaining a consistent intuitive approach to creating objects. One familiar with her work might say her focus eschews literal meaning and instead embracing poetic gesture, unique aesthetics, and unconventional configurations.
In pieces like “Take a Chance” and “A Stroke of Luck” (both created in 2015), for example, Babaeva demonstrates how color and objects conjure a striking sense of the surreal. The effect is achieved by arranging them across a linear plane of space. In both works, vibrant colored feathers boldly contrast against a white background, causing them to appear suspended in air. Their vivid color simultaneously lends them a totemic quality, raising them beyond the status of mere physical object. At the same time, Babaeva disrupts their reading as purely visual elements, such as with the feather nailed to the floor in “Take a Chance”, or the physical arrangment of objects on the mirror in “A Stroke of Luck.” Both gestures tell us that illusion is rooted in the physical object.
In her solo exhibition, “It’s the Little Things that Matter” at Tiger Strikes Asteroid (2016), Babaeva acquired several items from an IKEA store: including clocks, chairs, coat hangers, shelves, and picture frames. She then used these objects to create an installation out of. Here, the readymade became a starting point for transforming everyday consumer good into domestic absurdity.
In one installation, 18 ready-made clocks were mounted on the wall, each displaying a different time on its face. On one of the clocks, a nuclear-hued foam overgrowth envelopes it with finger-like sections of airbrushed grey and pink grasping its edge. Elsewhere the foam is used in another work to fill a champagne flute. On its shelf, a small bulb of pink material dangled over its edge.
Babaeva’s material vocabulary shifted towards glass in 2017, where she suspended dozens of golden-hued glass bulbs from the ceiling inside of a mirror-walled space as part of the Art in Buildings initiative. The glass forms were dispersed throughout the enclosed space, resembling a gathering cluster of gold blood platelets. The juxtaposition of material, form, and space draws allusion to the inner physical body.
In her exhibition at Essex Flowers, “Word of Mouth,” Babaeva also placed spherical glass forms in buckets of water. Here, the buoyancy of the glass caused the spheres to float on the water’s surface. In this arrangement, each bucket was outfitted with a water pump that made the colorful, gel-like baubles to swirl around in circles, appearing ready to fly away by a sudden current of air. This whimsical, rooted-in-reality approach seems a hallmark of Babaeva’s work, where seemingly ordinary objects have the potential to transform into something extraordinary. Her interplay of materials, colors, and motion elevates the everyday world, infusing it with a sense of enchantment and reminding us of the fine line between observation and sensory experience.
There is also an intuitive fluidity in Babaeva’s work that is combined with an understated conceptual resonance. It is especially noticeable in recent works such as in her solo show Basking in Reflected Glory at Peep Space, where more than a dozen glass-blown objects were arranged and shown. Elongated, drooping glass forms were supported on chemical stands, with a spectrum of subtle hues. Like translucent organs on display, these forms gave the impression of scientific specimens.
Among the objects assembled for this show, the spherical forms were perhaps the most mysterious albeit the most simple. Thoughtfully positioned atop or within clear Plexiglas boxes or placed directly on the floor, Babaeva’s use of deliberate framing and elevation serve to emphasize the uniqueness of each object. The orb-like shapes bring to mind small planets, radiant spheres, or miniature stars. They also resonate with our physical anatomy. As we take in their gentle colors and flawless contours, we experience a sensation of being drawn into them, as if we are in orbit around the room, exploring its dimensions from either above, below, or within.
In this interplay of shape and space, the objects suggest a perpetual glide through the clean expanse of white space, and we too begin to sense movement. As our imagination fills up the void inside the object, the outer shell of glass, seemingly trapping and being illumined by all available light, becomes a surrogate of our own physicality.
Inna Babaeva was born in Lviv, Ukraine, and she lives and works in New York City. She recently had solo exhibitions at Peep Space, Tarrytown, NY (2021); Underdonk, Brooklyn, NY (2021); Essex Flowers, New York, NY (2020); Art in Buildings, New York, NY (2017); and at TSA, Brooklyn, NY (2016). Her work has been in group exhibitions at Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI; Gordon Galleries at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA (2018); Kienzie Art Foundation, Berlin, Germany (2017); and Songs for Presidents, Brooklyn, NY (2017).
Babaeva’s work has been featured in Two Coats of Paint, VICE Magazine, ArtFCity, SLEEK Magazine, Sculpture Center Notebooks, Glass Quarterly, and ARTnews. Babaeva is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation grant (2007), a Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program grant (2015), a Visiting Artist Fellowship grant at Urban Glass (2017), and was a Rema Hort Mann Foundation grant nominee (2016). Her work is in the permanent collection of the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI. Babaeva received her BFA degree from Florida Atlantic University and her MFA degree from Rutgers University.