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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.

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