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Solo Together - Art In Unexpected Places

by Michael Miracle

Can you remember the last thing you threw in the trash? Was it a receipt? A gum wrapper? The remnants of your lunch? Whatever it was, you probably didn’t give it much thought.

Artist Paula Crown wants to change that. With her SOLO TOGETHER series of sculptural installations, Crown is challenging viewers to reevaluate the impacts of throwaway consumerism.

Practically everyone has some history with the object on which Crown has chosen to focus our attention: the SOLO Cup. It’s the cup of keg parties and beer pong, the vessel for Kool-Aid at toddlers’ birthdays and cabernet at family reunions. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in America above the age of three who hasn’t drunk out of one at least once. Then into the trash (or, one can hope, the recycling bin), it goes.

But you won’t have encountered a SOLO Cup like the one Crown has created as her latest SOLO TOGETHER installation. Jokester, which debuts outside of The Little Nell on June 23rd, stands nine feet tall and stretches ten feet long. It is bright red and crumpled, looking like some Goliath tossed it over his shoulder as he ambled out the door.

By giving such an ordinary object such import and scale, Crown is forcing us to reconsider it. Is a discarded plastic cup really so inconsequential? Jokester may be outsized when compared to actual SOLO Cups, but given their ubiquity—and potential permanence—is it the real cups’ presence on the planet that is truly out of scale?
As Crown has said about her motivation for the work, “Single-use plastics and our insatiable appetite for natural resources continue to threaten our pristine landscapes, and frankly, our existence.”

The SOLO TOGETHER series debuted in July 2017 at the London gallery 10 Hanover, with Crown’s installation of 150 red plaster casts of individually crushed SOLO Cups. Unlike Jokester, these sculptures were the exact dimensions of real SOLO Cups. Each one was unique; some looking stepped on, others squeezed.

In giving the mass-produced, throwaway object an element of individuality—each cup also has its own name; Mathlete and Effortlessly Perfect among them—Crown argues an important point: while the cups may look the same, each one counts. Their impact is in no way lessened by their sameness.

As the cups’ names suggest, there’s a unique human being attached to each one of them, which inclines viewers to relate to them more personally: If I were at this party, which name would be mine…Keeping Up Appearances? When installed, SOLO TOGETHER is about connectivity, the marks we make as humans, and an individual’s responsibility within the body of the collective. Jokester is the amplification of that message, more targeted to an awakening of civic and individual responsibility—literally the elephant in the room.

“The heroic scale of Jokester calls for attention. It is big and red and tells us to ‘STOP.’ We need to pause and be mindful of our relationship with conveniences like single-use plastics,” says Crown. “They come with a price that we all will bear sooner or later. It amplifies the message of SOLO TOGETHER that we need to address this challenge. We must understand the marks the world makes on us and the social marks we make as individuals. Our lives depend on it.”

Earlier this year, Crown reinstalled SOLO TOGETHER (now both the title of the small cups installation as well as the name of the ongoing series) and debuted CHALICE, an 8-foot-tall, twisted gold SOLO Cup, at Studio Cannaregio in Venice, Italy. Both were part of The Architecture of Memory, a gallery-wide examination of Crown’s artwork that also included her Venetian Blinds, kinematic.cosmos, and the video CHAIN MESH.

Jokester and the SOLO TOGETHER series confront a serious issue, but they convey a refreshing whimsy, too. Most people’s experiences with SOLO Cups are rooted in togetherness, often celebration. Through her use of color and materials—and the choice of the SOLO Cup itself—Crown has managed to capture that playfulness. Seeing the cups first elicits a sense of familiarity, then often the flash of a warm memory. The contemplation comes later—and it is all but guaranteed. Because the greatest impact of Crown’s series may be this: you will never look at a SOLO Cup the same way again.

Of her approach to making the various cups, Crown explains that “we learn through play and experimentation. We discover what works and what fails. Failure is data and guides us. As we all are, I am trying to get my bearings in this complex interstitial space between artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and our unique beings. My process is scientific and is driven by curiosity. What is possible? How would it look in a different dimension, scale, material or color? The end game is about discovery and the creation of new knowledge.”

Jokester represents the most recent project in Aspen Skiing Company’s Art in Unexpected Places, a program that has placed art on our mountains, hotels, and lift tickets since 2005. Photos from Crown’s SOLO TOGETHER installation currently feature as Aspen Snowmass’s lift ticket art. To support the sustainability message of the SOLO TOGETHER project, Aspen Skiing Company and The Little Nell have eliminated the use of plastic straws and now provide biodegradable straws only upon request.

Solo Together

Published June 2018