The burst of color and texture from the butterflies in “CHRYSALIS” gave it a serendipitous trait it may not have originally held. Photo by Emily Every

“CHRYSALIS” exhibit explores childhood, social maturation

Erin Rappleye’s exhibit, “CHRYSALIS,” a jewelry-centric installation, focuses more on stagnant snapshots of the past than a future-bound metamorphosis.

Erin Rappleye’s current walk-in art installation, titled “CHRYSALIS,” endeavors to recontextualize the childhood playroom. Rappleye, a Tulsa-based artist, writes of the playroom as “a space where we can mimic learned behavior through interactions with our peers or inanimate objects,” resulting in an “internal process of maturation.”
Rappleye’s reason for naming her exhibit after the transformation of larvae becomes apparent upon first sight: stepping inside the exhibit is as evocative of rediscovering your childhood playroom as it is of coming upon some silken, alien hollow. “CHRYSALIS” is completely self-contained in a small room within the gallery itself. Held up by wooden beams and encircled by walls of paper and mesh fabric, the small room emulates the feeling of entering a new, discrete space despite having no built-in floor or ceiling.
Within the enclosure of the exhibit, the viewer is confronted with whitewashed toys and trinkets that adorn the typified childhood: light toy trucks attached to white wooden wheels are scattered across the gallery’s gray concrete floor; a white toy piano, a small white tea set and a white miniature kitchen all sit unattended at three of the room’s corners; a child’s ecru lace dress and a porcelain baby doll are draped over the backs of empty chairs. The only spot of color in the exhibit is the pink plastic horse that stands guard on the counter of the kitchen playset.
Rappleye specializes in jewelry as an art form, and this is apparent here. Hung from the ceiling of the gallery itself, but lowered to the level of the installation, is a handwrought, functioning light fixture that mirrors vintage gasoliers. Several other metal ornaments hang from the ceilings and walls of the exhibit, giving the impression of a deconstructed mobile.
Sewn into the mesh of the back-corner walls of the exhibit is a swarm of white paper butterflies. The lightness of the paper texture brings a considerable amount of levity and dynamism to the exhibit’s visuals, which may have otherwise been bogged down by the metals of the mobiles and the visual weight of the white furniture in the room.
Rappleye’s artist statement describes her interest in communicating how “a child’s playroom functions as a sort of social chrysalis.” While the chrysalis aspect of the work comes through the aesthetics of the installation, the actual facet of transformation seems largely absent. The installation represents a snapshot of childhood, not the metamorphosis into adulthood.
Rappleye writes of certain hints of the transformation, but not enough to redefine the experience of the exhibit. For example, the placement of the doll near the kitchen playset couples and juxtaposes childhood with adulthood clearly, but that is the most obvious case of this. If anything, the exhibit has the aura of abandonment, not of metamorphosis. While an interesting illustration of an idealized, whitewashed childhood, I would be hesitant to say it fully realizes the metaphor of the chrysalis.
Erin Rappleye currently works at Tulsa Community College as an Assistant Professor of Art. Her installation, “CHRYSALIS,” is currently at Living Arts in the Brady Arts District until Thursday, Feb. 15. The exhibits are open noon to 5 p.m., with free admission Tuesday through Saturday, excluding Thursdays.

Post Author: Emily Every