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.”


Nashville Scene Mention

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March’s First Saturday events anticipate the spring art season
Crawl Space

by Joe Nolan
Saturday, 6-9 p.m. on Fifth Avenue Downtown

March is a good month for art and artists. On March 10 we’ll all spring our clocks forward, shake off our sunlight deprivation and psychologically prepare for spring and the busy art calendar that always accompanies it. This month’s First Saturday event features out-of-towners, newbies and a big announcement from a Nashville homeboy.

Craig Brabson is a native Nashvillian best known for the photographs of rusting metal he started snapping in the 1990s. These studies of color, texture and line are hanging in offices, institutions and homes all over the city. Brabson exhibits his work at fairs and festivals around the country, all the while creating new imagery back at home. Visitors to the opening celebration of the Craig Brabson Fine Art Photography Gallery in The Arcade should expect pictures of vintage signage, iconic Nashville cityscapes, architectural studies and at least a handful of painterly, colorful photographs of rust on metal. They should also expect a crowd.

This month, Coop will be hosting installation artist Lisa Walcott in their space at The Arcade. Walcott’s work makes sophisticated statements about time and the joys and pains of the mundane, but it’s also accessible and full of humor. While I’m never exactly sure what to expect from a Coop installation, a visit to the artist’s website offers some clues: Walcott’s elements often move or operate in some way, as in the piece that includes an endlessly smoking cigarette, or the one with an ever-steaming cup of coffee. Another installation features a red rubber ball that’s strung to a spinning mechanical arm mounted in a gallery’s rafters. The precision of the setup creates the gravity-defying illusion of a self-bouncing ball while the monotonous sound of the rhythmic bouncing draws viewers into an acute awareness of the present moment. I’m hoping Walcott brings similar delights to Saturday’s Art Crawl.

Twist and Twist Etc. will be showing an exhibition of collaborative art by students from Antioch High School and Hillsboro High School. The Loop Project was organized by Cheekwood, and the students were facilitated by local painter Hans Schmitt Matzen and New York-based photographer Gieves Anderson.

Painter Metra Mitchell’s Sea Vessels is a collection of sexy beach-going nudes. At 40AU, Mitchell’s frolicking femmes seem happy enough, but there is something off about these scenes, as gallery curator Megan Kelley writes in the show’s press release: “Though playful, Mitchell’s figures seem suspended in a fugue, detached from the viewer and avoiding interaction with an outside gaze.”

Rounding off The Arcade highlights, Open Gallery will be hosting a group show from Chicago collective Adds Donna. Between Hearth & Campfire will likely be typical of Adds Donna group shows that include work in several media, loosely organized around a central theme.

At Tinney Contemporary this month, painter Pam Longobardi’s colorful, abstract landscapes on copper and paper make metaphors about humanity’s impact on the environment, and what it might mean for us and our world in the future. Some pieces seem wholly alien, as if the artist is predicting star travel to emerge from humanity’s relentless technological progress — and maybe she is. I hope Longobardi’s work in this show will come off more pretty than preachy, and that she doesn’t forget British alternative rock band Love and Rockets’ sacred dictum, “You cannot go against nature / Because when you do / Go against nature / It’s part of nature too.”

Longobardi’s work will hang alongside similarly nature-inspired works on paper that her husband and studiomate Craig Dongoski created in collaboration with a chimpanzee named Panzee. I haven’t seen the man/ape mash-up yet, but I really like Dongoski’s pen and pencil drawings, and I’d hate to see the simian turn this display into too much monkey business.

St. Mary’s Church at 330 Fifth Ave. N. has joined the Art Crawl, and Saturday they’re hosting exhibitions by Nashville painters Megan Behrens and Niki Adams. This is Behrens’ first exhibition of her oil portraits. Adams creates abstracts and cityscapes with spray paint and acrylics.

Keep crawling. It’s almost springtime.

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South Bend Tribune Article

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Artist Lisa Walcott’s simplistic works displayed at Krasl

December 21, 2012 | EVAN GILLESPIE | South Bend Tribune Correspondent

“Dunnit” by Lisa Walcott

ST. JOSEPH — Don’t expect to walk into Lisa Walcott’s show in the artlab gallery of the Krasl Art Center and just stand and look at art.

You’ll hear the art, for one thing, and you’ll see it move. You’ll want to walk all around it, look at it from all angles, and you’ll want to crouch down low to get a better look at it.

You should do all those things, because these are not pieces that are at their best when they’re merely looked at. They beg to be experienced, to be examined and to be talked about. They’re simple in themselves, but they open the door to potentially bigger things.

Holland’s Walcott says that she’s interested in “fleeting moments and transitional spaces,” and her interest is evident in the handful of pieces that make up the show. She’s interested in making art that occupies a place in time, not just in space, and rather than pursue purely temporal arts — music, theater, performance art — she makes objects that change. She makes objects that sit in a gallery, like paintings or sculptures, but that change the gallery space, turn it into an experience or a setting for action. It’s an uncomplicated idea, and Walcott’s uncomplicated pieces embody it well.

Several of the pieces are mostly about motion. “On and On” is a string that dangles above the gallery floor, hanging from a wooden bar overhead. A metal rod rotated by a small motor periodically tweaks the string, making it quiver and dance around the visitor’s eye level. Another piece operates similarly; a rotating string makes itself jiggle when it comes into contact with a bit of plastic tubing. “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge or Vice Versa” is more showy and more fun; here, a rotating rod bounces another rod on which is hanging a rubber ball on a string, making the ball bounce rambunctiously on the gallery floor.

In one way, these pieces feel industrial — the constant whir of their motors gives the gallery the air of a factory floor — but the way they’re cobbled together out of string and wire makes them seem haphazard and fragile. The most intriguing thing about the pieces is their rhythm. Because everything is triggered by rotating motors, the movement is cyclical — what at first seems random is actually a set of movements that happens over and over again.

Other pieces are more subtle in their movements. “Threshold” is a jumble of boards and a brass doorknob whose lock button twirls incessantly.

“Everything’s Different When It’s Over” consists of a floor lamp and some socks that don’t move at all. And “Fine, Thank You” makes efficient use of a motor and a paper bag to make an unassuminglittle piece that is creepy out of proportion to its size.

Creepy is a good word to describe “Dunnit,” too. In this piece, a flyswatter is pinned to the wall with a large kitchen knife. Here, Walcott is setting up a question; her unexpected and unsettling placement of these common objects makes us begin to construct a story in our heads to explain how these things got here. Something similar happens with “A Lot,” in which some towels are hung unobtrusively in a corner. These objects are nothing significant in themselves; the art is in what they suggest.

The show is capped off with a pair of ink-and-acrylic mixed-media pieces. Because they’re works on paper, and because they’re framed and hung on the wall, they conform to the idea of what art is supposed to be. They’re whimsical and unconventional, but next to the strange goings-on in the rest of the gallery, they seem positively quaint.

Walcott’s work will be a challenge for many visitors. There’s very little beauty in the show, and there’s not much in the way of obvious craft, either. Visitors who define art by those criteria probably won’t appreciate what’s going on in the gallery. But those who are willing to let art ask questions rather than answer them might find something worthwhile here, and those who will let art make them laugh certainly won’t be disappointed.

Rapidian Review

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What do you see: Breathing Room at SiTE:LAB

by Holly Bechiri on Friday Sep 21st, 2012 02:34pm in OPINION

Tucked away in the back of a large venue is a quiet space to breathe.

Upstairs in the expansive venue at the old Public Museum curated by SiTE:LAB, one room, seemingly unfinished and filled with boxes, leads to another room with curious little breathing piles of bubbles. The entry is “Breathing Room” by Lisa Walcott .

When I visited the first time, as I was walking out, a couple was standing in the room full of boxes looking around, confused: Is this an art entry? What’s going on? Did we take a wrong turn?

I turned to them, pointed to the room beyond it, and reassured them.

“Yes, you definitely want to go in there.”

Unlike many other SiTE:LAB entries, “Breathing Room” doesn’t use old preserved birds and animals or body parts and science displays. It’s a small empty room with holes in the walls and the ceiling, filled with nothing but peeling paint and unfinished floors. But on those floors are living, breathing creatures: bubbles coming up from little spaces in the floor, forming islands of life in the middle of what could be mistaken for a forgotten room.

The space makes me want to slow down, to observe, to watch and see what happens.

I sat down the second time I visited, with the luxury of being alone in the space, and just watched. The installation, with its simple tools of moving air and soapy water, holds my fascination, even after repeated visits. By sitting with Walcott’s work, I became part of a historical building’s breath, our communal breath.

Maybe that sounds overly dramatic or excessively emotional or like I’m giving you complete hogwash. But visual art- just like good theatre and accomplished original music- can move us in ways we don’t normal experience running around in our busy lives. It takes a lot to get us to stop and get intertwined with the physical and historical significance of the world around us. Walcott’s work accomplishes this in a subtle and powerful way.

When in the “Breathing Room,” I am breathing with a living observation of the space around us.

“Having access to a site with as much history, life and residue as the Old Grand Rapids Public Museum, I am able to tap into this for part of the content of my work,” says Walcott.

Walcott was drawn to the space as she saw a possibility for interacting with that history and life.

“In my work, I investigate relationship to space, transitional moments, uncanny possibilities, cycles and change,” she says. “I’m interested in many things that are impossible to hold on to.”

We can run around all over ArtPrize, trying to find the most impressive, the biggest, the most complex… when perhaps one of the most moving pieces is tucked away, in the back, in a poorly-lit “empty” room- empty of anything except the pure observation of air and breath and the heartbeat of a building.

AEQAI Post about Land of Tomorrow Exhibitions

Quoted from AEQAI Post. View Online Article

Idiosyncracies, the Mundane, and More at The Land of Tomorrow

February 18th, 2012

The Land of Tomorrow in Louisville collaborated with Country Club to curate a broad show of many different artists, many of whom are well-known in Cincinnati (such as Aaron Morse and Jimmy Baker). Only certain artists were given their own individual rooms (The Land of Tomorrow’s group), and are my focus here: Taylor Baldwin, Lisa Walcott, Jacob Isenhour and Willard Tucker (in collaboration), and Amanda Church.
Taylor Baldwin’s I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts (2009) features a laborious blend of unusual materials and meanings. The chainsaw, the topmost element, is made of transparent polyethylene, an “idiosyncratic” combination of material and function inspired by approaches to art practiced since the 1960s. This idiosyncratic approach (as it is commonly referred to for artmaking in this style from that period) usually relies on minimal form to isolate a sense of the unexpected (e.g. Claes Oldenburg and, more recently, Tara Donovan). Baldwin, instead, complicates this approach by putting idiosyncratic components with other idiosyncratic ones, resulting in a jarring plethora of ‘disassociations.’ In I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts, the aforementioned fragile transparent chainsaw rests above a central stump-form (idiosyncratic–forgive my overuse of this term–in its hollowness and intricate composition of small, straight pieces of recovered wood) and two shipping pallets (surprisingly made of plastics).

As if these juxtapositions were not enough to visually digest, the complex description of his materials violates the essential idea of artistic “repurposing.” The gallery handout includes a paragraph-sized, diligent listing of the varied sources of the sculpture’s materials (such as “cutoff from Lisa Walcott’s ‘My Pleasure’ installation” and “copper nodule from the San Manuel Mine”). It encourages the viewer to separate the material from its function in the form. It also highlights the process of production when the process is not so visually evident, or even relevant.

The final result is a negative aesthetic that disturbs. It is meant to do so. According to the curator’s statement, his work “deals with anxiety and the specter of imminent catastrophe.” The resulting piece, like many of his others in the show, is a curious amalgam of the anti-modernist tendency in the arts of the past fifty years, if not further back (if one includes its Dadaist aspects). Yet, its bombardment of the mind and the senses (or mind versus the senses) perhaps best reveals the kind of stimuli of which the most recent generation, habituated to the intensity of electronic media from the cradle onward, demands. Perhaps also the obsession with materials and their properties indicates an uneasiness with the unreality of digital, virtual space. In such a case, the task of the arts is not the subsumption of matter to form but to remind us that matter matters.

While Baldwin’s work is an in-your-face approach to visual art (a central piece in his show featured a life-sized skeleton on a pseudo-life raft), Lisa Walcott’s My Pleasure (2011) kinetic sculptures are subtle. An eye-level brown paper bag extending from the wall grabs one’s attention upon entering as its expansion and contraction makes a rhythmic crinkling sound (it is supposed to mimic hyperventilation). Yet, it is curiously tender, as if its fragility required assistance. Likewise, other kinetic objects slowly make their way to one’s attention: small soap bubbles appear and collect around a hole in the floor; a miniature black object imitates a fly trapped in an erratic orbit under the central ceiling light; and a nearly unnoticeable cigarette rests slightly “lit” on the floor. The mimetic element here is what makes these four objects/installations so effective, as the artist reveals an appreciative attention to details in the world about her. Their duplication here, placed in the framing of the gallery on old floorboards, gave me the sense of a curiosity cabinet of the everyday. A particularly personal narrative for me was that of an evening with an elderly smoker gazing quietly out a large window from a room in which he restlessly was trapped.

A Colder Friday, a collaboration between Jacob Isenhour and Willard Tucker, features varied elements involving an enclosure around a window. The enclosure, a smaller “room” in a larger room, is composed of straw bale and grey disaster blankets. Curiously, the smaller room is centered about one of the gallery’s windows, open to the outside with a fan blowing in frigid, 35-degrees air. The straw bale, a green building component, served to keep the cold air in the enclosure, a curious inversion of its usual function in architecture. Isenhour and Tucker placed other sculptural elements in and around the enclosure, such as a gold-painted cement mixing rod, some pieces of styrofoam, and cement blocks. I was unable to make anything of these elements, although apparently some were encased in ice at one time. The strength of the work resided in its inversion of architecture and the relationship to the weather, an unexpected experience in the gallery.

The final solo show, “Hollywoodland,” featured the abstract/Pop paintings of Amanda Church. Large (typically 72×80 inches) and highly stylized, her work features bright hues painted within strongly delineated lines. The artist abstracted from drawings she made in Los Angeles (from “hotel exteriors and interiors, pool shapes, billboards” and more). This is evident in Man with a Big Heart (2010), an dematerialization of a man’s jeans, shirt (with a geometrical pattern), and what appears to be animal to his left. The abstraction of the original form implies that the relationship of color and line are more essential than whatever subject matter her initial drawings drew from. Yet, I had difficulty with her bold colors, perhaps due to my experiencing them in the midst of winter. I found myself preferring how they looked in reproduction (such as the jpg included with this article) due to the way in which the small scale made her work intimate.

–A.C. Frabetti