Dans la Lune, 2007
Photo: Nash Baker © nashbaker.com

Kirsten Hassenfeld
Dans la Lune
27 September - 9 December 2007

Kirsten Hassenfeld on Dans la Lune:

Some friends were visiting from France, and one described speaking with her doctor about a medication. She had inquired if it would make her "dans la lune." When I asked her what that meant, she said, "dopey, drugged." Later I looked up the French idiom and found that it referenced daydreaming. "Il est dans la lune" can be translated as "He’s got his head in the clouds," or "He’s on another planet." Dans la Lune is a perfect title because in my work I try to create an imaginary place that relates to our longings for a better, grander existence.

Kirsten Hassenfeld’s translucent sculptures have been characterized as "extravaganzas of the handmade." Since 1999, Hassenfeld has used paper, the most ordinary of materials, to create ornate, obsessively detailed objects that reference luxury goods, classical architecture, and decorative arts. Described by Hassenfeld as "dreams on the edge of vanishing," her ethereal sculptures explore her own fantasies of abundance and plenty.

When Hassenfeld first saw Rice Gallery’s large glass wall, she immediately thought of it as a kind of curio cabinet for her sculpture and an opportunity to work at a large scale. Dans la Lune contains the biggest objects Hassenfeld has ever made. Structures four to eight feet in diameter, resembling gigantic droplets or the onion domes of Russian architecture, are embellished with a profusion of swags, chains, honeycomb "beads," gem–like crystals, and a myriad of surprises, including a branch holding a tiny swing, a woman demurely leading a lacey pony within a miniature gazebo, and a pendant featuring Bacchus raising his cup of wine. At the center of some of the suspended structures is an elaborately embellished illuminated element. For example, one light is enclosed by a Fabergé egg–like form, which sprouts crystalline monoliths, and is circled by tiny, dangling chains.

To invent these endlessly adorned, hybrid forms, Hassenfeld scours her collection of auction catalogues and books on decoration, indulging in her attraction to the beauty of ornament. Simultaneously, she experiments tirelessly with new types of paper and methods. To create the fragile components that comprise Dans la Lune, Hassenfeld spent thousands of hours hand–cutting, folding, gluing, rolling, and coiling three types of archival papers: tissue, corrugated, and vellum. Hassenfeld learned how to make the numerous fanned, honeycomb forms by taking apart and studying party decorations. She then used translucent tissue to assemble her own more complex variations — such as the fanning, accordion–like light covering that is cut in the shape of a female silhouette, resembling a profile found on cameos and pendants but enlarged many times over.

Throughout Dans la Lune, Hassenfeld uses radical shifts in scale or what she calls an "Alice in Wonderland" strategy to create a place where people leave the everyday world of familiar objects. For example, the large, suspended structures could be seen as enormous earrings that only a giant could wear, making the viewer tiny; yet this same viewer is huge when the many clusters of quartz–like forms are seen as miniature buildings in a diminutive cityscape. Dramatically lit, Hassenfeld’s eccentrically scaled and obsessively crafted objects combine to create a world of decorative excess. As Hassenfeld puts it, "Some people look at celebrity homes in magazines as a means of escape; this is my form of escapism that I am willing to share."


Kirsten Hassenfeld was born in Albany, New York. She received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994 and an MFA from The University of Arizona, Tucson in 1998. In 2004, she had a solo exhibition, Objects of Virtue, at Bellwether Gallery, New York. Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions throughout New York, including Light x Eight: The Hanukkah Project (2006), The Jewish Museum; Greater New York (2005), P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, a MoMA affiliate, and Open House: Working in Brooklyn (2004), Brooklyn Museum. She has been artist-in-residence in New York at Dieu Donné Papermill (2005), The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation (2004), and Smack Mellon Artist Studio Program (2003). In 2006, Hassenfeld was awarded a grant from The Pollock-Krasner Foundation. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.