It looks a little like a giant’s 2-year-old left their Fisher-Price building set lying around the garage floor — except these toys are made to play with our imagination, not the other way round. Aaron Badham has moved into Kittredge Gallery at the University of Puget Sound with a scattering of “Inflated Fabrications,” and the giant puffy steel machine parts toy with your expectations in fun ways.
Badham’s clever with his craft. From the doorway the objects on the floor — all a few feet wide and high — look exactly like brightly-colored inflatable plastic. Primary blue and yellow, Kelly green, metallic purple — surely if you kick them they’ll float around? Up close, though, you realize these cute objects with IKEA names (Hub, Bonk, Plug) are powder-coated steel with a bit of MDF and spray rubber thrown in. Sure, they’re exactly as Badham describes them in the artist statement: “toy-like,” drawing on “ideas of play, experiential learning and manual investigation” (i.e. kicking things around). But in their sharp-edged steel solidity, they laugh at both our emotional reaction (aww!) and the whole culture of machines-as-ultimate-toy.
There’s “Bonk,” about the size and shape of a car tire without a hole, but split open on one side, its purple mouth begging to be fixed. There’s “Hub,” like a giant green life preserver around a black “metal” wheel hub, everything a bit squished yet perfectly symmetrical (as the prep drawings on the walls confirm). “Lefty Loosy” is a bolt with a puffy yellow cushion around it. It’s very hard to resist the urge to pick it up. Badham has scattered all seven of these around the gallery floor, playful and yet deadly serious in how firmly they’re constructed — machine parts feeding off human love like a Pixar movie come to life.
In the small gallery, Rita Robillard offers her thoughts on migration of plant species due to climate change. Screenprints made in collaboration with scientists studying Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and hemlock at experimental forests, she layers her metallic trees and bloody skies, the images of the past hovering behind the present like a threat despite the Japanese eye for form and balance.
Aaron Badham’s “Inflated Fabrications”
Where: Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon-5 p.m. Saturdays through Feb. 27; artist talk 5-7 p.m. Feb. 3 (Rita Robillard artist talk 5-7 p.m. Feb. 23).
Information: 253-879-3701, pugetsound.edu/kittredge.