In an Uncanny Valley, Kristi Cavataro Embraces Traditional Materials
Art Young Artists 2022

In an Uncanny Valley, Kristi Cavataro Embraces Traditional Materials

It was lucky that sculptor Kristi Cavataro acted on her affections for stained glass before the pandemic. By March 2020, she had already worked out how to hack the traditional technique and make it do her three-dimensional bidding. Cavataro’s living-work configuration in the South Bronx made it almost convenient to have a painstaking, math-driven process to attend to while the world shut down. The artist spent months hand-plotting, cutting, soldering and ultimately bending the will of small colorful windows to erect hieroglyphs independent of a page. Flaunting Louis Comfort Tiffany’s signature copper hand-wrapping technique for her own means, Cavataro’s forms exist in an uncanny valley where one might also find post-Soviet anti-fascist memorials and AI narratives about humanity.

Kristi Cavataro holds a piece of her stained-glass sculpture close in her Bronx studio. Photography by Aubrey Mayer.

A visit to Cavataro’s studio reveals the origins of her uncanny shapes. The body-sized sculptures do echo the freewheeling gestures from her ritualistic watercolor practice. The artist typically works in series, so when painting this means selecting a palette and running methodically (pathologically?) through its cosmic variations. Cavataro pinned a collection of them to the wall like butterflies— they square off against a mood board of 3D shapes the artist generated using CAD (computer-aided design software). “Sometimes it feels like I need to make everything to figure out what I want to make,” Cavataro says, adding, “but once I commit I will see it through to the end.”

Currently, Cavataro is wrestling with a dark-purple rib cage. I am in her medical theater and we are looking into the guts. In the fragmented frame, I see vertebrae components from the artist’s first New York solo show at Ramiken last spring being reworked. This is part of Cavataro’s obsessive algorithm: the new always recycles the old.

Kristi Cavataro, Untitled, 2021.

Looking forward, Cavataro predicts glass as far as the eye can see. “Glass is so time-consuming that I have yet to try a fraction of the things I want to,” she confesses, peppering in aspirations to mix her own colors rather than adhering to the rigidity of supplier catalogs, and dreaming of blowing up her sculptures' scale. Perhaps these experiments will be ready in time for her next solo at Ramiken in 2022. If the rib cage is completed in time, it will head to MoMA PS1 this fall, where the artist is showing as the youngest member of the "Greater New York 2021" show. There are infinite possibilities ahead.