Artist Julie Leidner presses audience member Charlotte Pollock into service as a model.
Photo by Keith Waits
Instant Installation Invitational (iii) Spring Meet at Louisville Visual Art
Review by Martin French
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Martin French. All rights reserved
Little is as daunting or as exciting for an artist as starting completely fresh. An exciting opportunity to create a brand new world, but daunting to know how much work must be done to reach the point they can say “this is complete, filled, satisfactory”. Doubly daunting it must have been for the artists participating in Instant Installation Invitational (iii) Spring Meet, as most of the material available was out of their control: the six artists were required to use 10 mystery items they discovered on the evening, and had 2 hours to assess, conceive, and build their work. And to add further pressure, all this in front of an audience.
Live art creation is an unusual thing, and deserves event status. In their impressive new warehouse surroundings, the Louisville Visual Art (LVA) space in Portland provided both ample space, and an appropriate atmosphere, featuring a live DJ, and a cash bar. Usefully, the artists in competition also had a number of their works exhibited in and around the central exhibition space, allowing an opportunity to examine their medium and some of their themes and to compare with what they were attempting within the restrictions of the contest. To judge solely by the works displayed, all six were set to be operating in unfamiliar territory.
Watching the artists in action was to see some dramatically different styles and approaches. Indeed, aspects of the event saw some of the artists bordering on performance art. Andrew Cozzens, who’s piece evoked for me a sense of Sumi-E, completed his work casually ripping pages out of one of the books they were all presented with, tossing them onto the floor to create an equally casual torrent on the ground. His motions were an echo of the calming hint of a lake composed of card below pool noodle mountains, serving his work almost to the point of becoming it.
Similarly, Julie Leidner’s last touches involved her wearing a Wilma Flintstone mask to tear out pages from her book. For a lingering moment looked like she may remain there, continuing to pull those pages out, becoming part of her own work. Her extended concave wall was mostly black, ready to consume the unsuspecting passer-by. But it was more than that – her earlier sketches of some guests in a style that felt familiar and kind, were posted alongside pages daubed with slogans and ideas (“A Papua New Guinea Of The Mind”, for instance) suggesting the dark looming chaos is not necessarily a damning one.
Planned or not, Teresa Koester also involved the audience, when towards the end, a boy and girl started arranging the bits of wood at the bottom of her installation. Their additions – and presence – were firming in keeping with what I understood to be her exploration of math and gender. One corner contained Pythagoras’ theorem in bright pink spray paint. The phallic nature of much of the stacked wood below, and the blue pool noodles served to highlight the book opened to the section on mathematics contained within a pink opening, perhaps an attempt to reclaim an area often perceived as male domain.
Perhaps the most dramatic transformation in my time there was that produced by Shohei Katayama, which was quite simple about an hour in, before building it up to its final scale. He also chose to highlight the book, circling the word “Japan”, and extending it from the work, connected by a string. Like most avid readers, I allowed the word a degree more power than perhaps it was due, and began to see the black downward strokes across the pages stuck to the wall as being the Japanese vertical writing. With the artist’s name and appearance being congruent with Japanese, before long, I found myself questioning my initial interpretations, and investigating possibly race related assumptions about his creation.
Straight lines dominated McKenna Graham’s finished work, with many straight flat horizontal parallel lines created out of pool noodles, pages, and cardboard, echoing Mondrain in some aspects. These aspects were firmly challenged, starting with a ladder that undermined those exact aspects with its practicality, its curved steps, its three-dimensionality. This was reiterated by a mini bookshelf, proudly upright, hosting a carefully leaned book, and a pile of broken wood, disordered, though calm. The device at the top was necessary to reveal the nature of the work – though almost invisible, with the twigs sprouting above it all as antlers, Graham had created the perfect sportsman’s den, with deer skull trophy.
Tellingly, the winner of the popular vote, Dave Metcalf was the first to finish on the evening, and his was the most sparse work. The tranquil order that was in such contrast to many of the other works seemed oddly unsettled by the open book with the exuberant freehand marks scrawled across the page. However, a closer look paid off, with the word “Iraq” circled, and the words “Win Win Win” emphatic. The calm triangles of white material were now flags of surrender, the cardboard strips suspended from twigs became bodies hanged from trees, the neat pile of Lincoln Log style wood on the ground a fort. Of course, as with all art, the final stroke is the interpretation of the viewer: perhaps by deploying less material in this case, Metcalf was able to guide us more directly to an understanding.
Free and open to the public, the artists did their bit, and seemed happy to engage with the audience as they were approached. It was a well-attended event, but there is always space for many more – one cannot help but feel that if more people attended these kind of events and took the opportunity to interact with the artists and each other, more people might realise how far from scary visual art is, and how much it can reflect who any of us could be.
Chiefly known for working in theatre, Martin French is a devotee of all manner of arts, and frequents galleries, studios, and performance venues with hopes of appreciating the complexity of the human condition. His preferences are for site-specific work, audience engagement, and interdisciplinary works.