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.