Eliel Jones [Art Forum, February 2019]
If you’re planning an exit strategy—and who isn’t, these days?—Anna Chrystal Stephens’s new exhibition, “Anorak,” is a good place to start gearing up. Think of how useful, and marveling, it would be to wear Utility Cloak (all works cited 2019), made up of several repurposed, lightweight tents perched on a wall, their plastic extremities spread out to outline the place for a body. Stephens stuffed the cloak’s insides with a myriad of escapist musts: water filters, a map, a first-aid kit, plastic plates and cups (indispensable for the posher among us), an emergency blanket, tools, and a vintage “Wild Flowers” pocket guide—alas, presumably not for finding psychedelic edibles.
Elsewhere in the gallery, Stephens sets up camp. Stern Hood, a canvas and steel tent, stands in the middle. While its autumnal colors, flower prints, tartan blankets, and gas hob make it feel like a modern commodity for the dilettantish urban explorer, a nearby homemade sink—roughly confected from tree branches, fluorescent yellow paracord, and a plastic basin—provides a better example of the artist’s resourcefulness. Hanging on a nearby wall as part of a titular work is a mural-sized photograph of an improvised shelter on a canal boat. Throughout the show, Stephens compels us to imagine how human-built structures can simultaneously respond to and withstand the will of nature. In flaunting her own playful survivalism, she seems to jab at viewers’ unpreparedness, or at least encourages us to grow a sense of humor—that apocalypse essential. With Brexit looming in the background, who knows how much of the artist’s help we’ll be needing.
Until then, keep calm and carry on.