What is the purpose of an art collective like SOIL? Should the work of each member improve and deepen through contact and conversation with fellow artists, or should the group come together for collaborations that beget a sense of stylistic or thematic coherence? Ideally, of course, both. SOIL's latest two shows have pursued the latter. In May, three artists left the gallery in a state of quizzical near-emptiness in nooksandcrannies. Now, Hardline Organics (A Tale of Absurd Optimism)—a totally collaborative installation (all the parts are created by all the artists) by Etsuko Ichikawa, Craig Miller, Jenny Heishman, Yuki Nakamura, and Saya Moriyasu—feels like a model utopian colony built, like SOIL, on the virtues of labor, cohabitation, exploration, and recreation.
The installation swallows the gallery in four Technicolor bites, segments that counterbalance the "absurd optimism" of the title with rigorous structure and planning. As you walk in, red light animates paper sculptures hanging on lines like geometric laundry; a little farther into the space, futuristic plywood and neon pods jut toward the ceiling. The centerpiece, in the heart of the gallery, is a half-dome dwelling that you walk into, made of the round plywood ends of wire spools. Holes in the spools are covered in colored plastic, and tiny ceramic figurines gather and play on ledges outside the holes, on the outside of the dome, so you can see their pleasant little lives through the plastic windows.
It is a lightly mocking blend of retro-futuristic interior design, quiet Eastern formalism, utilitarian architecture, cartoonishness, and wishing, and in answer to the basic question it raises about SOIL—what are we building here?—it seems to respond: something always slightly out of reach.