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Talia Shipman’s exhibition, Meet Me in the Middle, at Chimento Contemporary, toys with expectations and a very specific color palette to deliver both a celebration and a critique of human-made objects, all in the form of a desert-mirage-like, immersive installation.

The Vancouver-born artist combines chicken wire cactus sculptures with photographs of spare California desert landscapes, populated by aqua-hued 99¢ Store bric-a-brac.

At first glance, the playful blue objects plopped into desert settings read as makeshift oases. The overall impression is deceptively refreshing – the visual equivalent of a splash of cool, man-made water in an arid environment.

Talia Shipman, installation view

Talia Shipman, Meet Me in the Middle, installation view at Chimento Contemporary

Because the dime store objects – blue wigs, turquoise wine glasses, toys, tarps, cellophane and even the chicken wire – are so artificial, so chintzy and ultimately so dispensable – they offer only fleeting relief for a parched visitor. Instead of hydration, the detritus serves more as a reminder of a vast human presence, a sort of blue-dyed, petroleum-based overspray from the churning global production stream.

In the same way that a desert ecosystem is home to an array of highly evolved life forms, each armed with an impressive quiver of survival strategies against heat, sunlight and lack of humidity – so, too, these objects serve as evidence of human evolutionary adaptation, albeit not necessarily a tribute to either our long-term survival or our fitness.

A wall covered with overlapping photographs

Talia Shipman, Meet me in the Middle, wall detail, at Chimento Contemporary

The throwaway do-dads populating Shipman’s photographs are the subsistence-life-sustaining products of some of the world’s most needy industrial workers. The objects were shipped here courtesy of a complex global supply chain that encircles our rapidly warming planet. Their long journey done, the resultant baubles – laboratory concoctions of petroleum, lead, colored dye and sweat – are now democratically and inexpensively distributed, serving as fodder for our own momentary joys and needs and then rapidly discarded.

These multivalent art objects sit somewhere in the middle, they are both artifacts of our own man-made oasis, created for our benefit by the hands of less fortunate others – and synthetic turquoise harbingers of the future we are creating for ourselves.

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