Meet Wentrcek Zebulon, the Design Duo Embracing Ambiguity For Art’s Sake

Sean Santiago

Andrew Zebulon and Kristen Wentrcek, the design duo behind Wentrcek Zebulon.

Attendees of contemporary designers Wentrcek and Zebulon’s “My New Appendage” exhibition arrive to find the duo’s cavernous studio cordoned off by a wall of netting. The scene brings to mind a construction site, or a loading dock. It’s a gray area where the designers-cum-artists’ latest collection of works reveal themselves like cysts formed in the wake of our Mueller-induced malaise.

Kristen Wentrcek and Andrew Zebulon describe their new works as “visceral expressions of tension, constraint, and instability.” Each piece is carved and built in urethane foam. Then, it’s treated with an industrial vinyl that chemically bonds with the substrate, rather than being painted on. The result looks dense, but is actually light and squishy—Satanic pool toys. It is, in some sense, a mutation of the material. The colors, the extensive use of which is new to the designers’ practice, are mixed into either a gloss topcoat or the vinyl coating itself. This forms a malleable paste that gets spread out over the foam in a kind of perversion of tie dye. “It’s totally process-intensive,” acknowledges Wentrcek. “There’s a lot of splooge.”

The Conduit

That splooge and accompanying drippings, droppings and smears continue a material exploration first undertaken with their “Mutants” group show. They have since since evolved the exploration at a rapid clip. Their piece Section 1 at the “breastfeeding lounge” of the Friedman Benda exhibition “Blow Up” saw treated foam take shape as if a hand-hewn wedge of copper while Neolithic chunks of the stuff formed the backdrop for designer Christopher John Rogers’ Fall 2019 Ready-To-Wear collection.

Many of the works in “My New Appendage” reference medical devices and the shared structural language of correctional facilities and prisons. Wentrcek cites cervical collars, photos of scoliosis braces and rescue nets as inspirations. Traces are visible in the bloated orange webbing of The Heap. Untitled, the first work in the series, closely resembles a gurney. Unfolded Mass (which earned the unofficial moniker “the meat mat”) calls to mind the parallel bars used for physical therapy. I joke that the work might be a prognosis for human evolution, a vision of a future when we’re all just bologna-esque slabs with slots for iPhones. “At least we know black holes are real,” says one guest. We laughed.

Unfolded Mass

The plywood 2-by-4-foot bases for each piece were cut in half to look “more tubular” and to more closely resemble metal structures, like scaffolding. “I know we’re on track when I look at the work and I’m like—ick,” says Wentrcek. “This looks like it needs to be propped up. It sort of makes you feel bad. That’s usually an indicator of when we’re getting close to the end. They’re all sort of confrontational in that way.” The pieces compel and repulse, prompting unmediated reactions. They resist an overarching narrative, splintering experience into its component parts—expectation, disappointment, regret, fear, excitement. Liking the works feels almost a kinky thing to do. “I don’t want to tell somebody what to think of it. I’d prefer for it to be pretty visceral in that way,” says Wentrcek. “As long as you feel something, that’s the goal.”

“My New Appendage” is on view through April 28. Regular hours are Friday–Sunday 1–6pm or by appointment.