Review of "While Away" in the Nashville Scene

Click here to read: Lisa Walcott’s open ended installations have secret lives of their own
My blog post about the exhibition:While Away

Quoted text:

Take a quick glance at Coop Gallery’s current exhibit, While Away, and you might not see much: just ultra-minimalist sculptures made from commonplace household objects. But a closer look reveals surprises: The pieces aren’t static sculptures at all, but witty and elegant dynamic installations. An aerosol can sits atop a cardboard box, emitting a steady stream of white vapor; a doorknob inserted into a haphazardly placed beam of wood is silently turning. By bringing life to domestic clutter, these pieces turn the banal into something simultaneously eerie, charming and thought-provoking.

While Away is the first Nashville show for Lisa Walcott, a Michigander who is currently finishing up a residency at Chicago’s Threewalls Gallery. Her art involves, in her words, “objects that people can relate to.” Mini-motors, like those found in children’s science fair projects, bring her work into motion in ways that are familiar yet disconcerting. “When [the object] is doing this quirky gesture, you can bring your experience to it, and it maybe just sort of flips it in a funny way,” she says.

Walcott’s pieces mimic the moments of fragile equilibrium that sometimes transfix us in our daily lives — a bouncing ball, a smoking cigarette, a recently tugged lamp cord swaying rhythmically. Electricity uncannily extends these moments, suggesting household objects that move even after those responsible for animating them are gone.

“Threshold” is a sort of deconstructed door — a few planks of wood leaning against the gallery wall, one with a knob placed at hand height. Look closer and you’ll see the knob is slowly and continuously turning. The effect is unsettling. Similarly, in “Fine, Thank You,” a crumpled brown paper bag protrudes from the wall, expanding and contracting as if being breathed into.

In “Everything Is Different When It’s Over,” a lighted lamp leans against the wall. Black specks are suspended from wires above, resembling an annoying swarm of flies. The arrangement is similar to a traditional mobile, but instead of changing shape as the air around it moves, this piece makes use of simulated serendipity. The wires rotate; a strategically placed piece of rubber tubing periodically impedes their movement, creating an insectile jerky movement. The tableau (the kicked-over lamp, the flies) suggests a minor domestic meltdown. On the opposite wall, a flyswatter hangs, impaled by a kitchen knife: Did it fail to please its user?

These installations merely suggest such questions, inviting spectators to invent backstories without providing any definitive answers. “I like to leave it really open-ended,” Walcott says. “I’m more creating a mood than a full narrative.”

While all this may make While Away sound like an intellectual challenge, the show isn’t short on aesthetic appeal. “On and On” is especially simple and elegant. A lamp cord hangs from a wire that’s attached to a beam of wood placed near the ceiling. Every seven seconds, a spinning mechanical arm plucks the wire, making the cord bounce manically. Judging from audience reactions, the piece was a favorite; one art crawl visitor declared, “I want that over my bed at night.”

That would be a fitting place for it. These objects’ repetitive motions possess a soothingly meditative quality. They draw the spectator into the present moment, even as their unnatural persistence makes us paradoxically aware of the passage of time.

Keeping viewers mesmerized was Walcott’s goal when she started working with moving parts about four years ago. “I was always talking about transitional spaces and gestural objects and that kind of thing,” she recalls. “I always had a really active studio process. But when I showed my work, I’d just show the remnants of what I had done. So once I started actually animating the pieces themselves, it kind of made the form meet the function — everything clicked at that point.”

While Away makes clear that Walcott has found the perfect vehicle for her ideas. She describes her work as “pieces that [are] breathing in the moment, but have that threat of idleness sitting really close by. I like that sort of relationship with a double-edge aspect. Almost every good thing in life, I feel like, has something that threatens it.”