Weaving. It’s the stuff of cloth, for the most part. Or perhaps basketry. So, essentially it largely boils down to things that we wear, or something container-like within which we might artfully arrange other stuff. It might lay on the floor as a carpet, or even (more rarely) hang on the wall as, say, a sampler, or (even more rarely) as a tapestry.
But it’s not sculpture. Right?
Well, no, not right, and I would put forth Canadian artist Gareth Lichty by way of making my case. See, Lichty’s a sculptor, educated in Canada and England, who has chosen weaving as his broadly sculptural medium. Our cultural marginalization of weaving has long been in contradiction of its fundamental place within our world and so Lichty has, in a very real way, been reclaiming its unquestionably nucleic cultural, social and even natural role. For the world is indeed woven together, you see.
But let’s ease into this, start gently, start, well, with the work Range, a piece (or actually, pieces, for it is a work comprised of sections) that dates back to 2008 and which is, in many ways, an ongoing concern. Lying on the gallery floor, it resembles quite large and very flabby green mats, exhibited untidily strewn across the floor. It’s actually separate but exactly similar elements of an enormous collapsed tube woven out of ordinary green garden hose – quite literally miles of the stuff – that weighs in at well over a ton. In a very real way, it’s a form of basketry run totally amok, a kind of wildly out-of-scale woven vessel that can’t self-support its own structure. And look closer, for the very weave of which this thing is made is itself woven; all those miles of garden hose are comprised of a watertight braiding of material that simultaneously stabilizes the shape of the hose and ensures its flexibility. So, in Range, the macroscopic structure of the piece is reiterated at a more “microscopic” level; the weave of the world recursively underlies itself.
By comparison, Hamper (2012) is a far more neat and tidy work. Like Range, it too is several miles in size, comprising what is essentially a large, tightly wrapped coil of woven plastic construction fence (also used in more northerly climes as snow fencing to catch and block drifting banks of the stuff), that has more than a passing resembling to an enormous orange roll of toilet paper lying on its side.
Okay, maybe not the nicest of comparisons, but it definitely provides an accurate imagining of the piece, and, in any event, contextually works. Hamper resounds of Lichty’s interest in the use and exploration of industrial materials. They’re the elements that have absolutely dominated his more recent works.
So it is with Gabion Tower (2013-2015). It’s an outdoor sculptural installation Lichty’s done for the Cambridge Sculpture Garden in Cambridge, Ontario, a city located southwest of Toronto (cambridgesculpturegarden.ca). Visually, it has a vague resemblance to the shape of an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb: a vertical stem that rises tube-like and which flares out to become really quite bulbous at the top. It’s constructed out of a series of woven wire mesh cages arranged around a central steel pillar that provides physical support for the structure. These mesh cages actually have a name: they’re called Gabion baskets, and are commonly used in civil engineering projects; filled with, say, rocks, they shore up eroding hillsides, or redirect the flow of water. In other words, they’re hugely important and utterly elemental in urban development, and Lichty has used them to construct what is, essentially, a sculptural likeness, done in miniature, of the enormous water towers that dominate the skylines of many Ontario communities.
But for all of that, it’s not really about the representation of something that is of real significance here, for Lichty has other, more subversive intentions. Shortly after Gabion Tower was originally installed in the summer of 2013, he planted Virginia Creeper, a native species of ivy, at the base of the piece, Over the course of time, the ivy has grown up and through the work, scaling the top of its 12 foot height, and opportunistically filling in the wire mesh of the gabion baskets.
So Gabion Tower is utile, functioning as a kind of sculptural, lattice-work trellis, an aesthetic tool for enabling the fecund stuff of the growing, organic world to go at it and weave its myriad patterns – the warp and weft of Nature’s processes – in the midst of an urban environment that is largely oriented toward processes that are unnatural, with decidedly artifactual ends in mind. Lichty gracefully subsumes any aesthetic intention of his own to the imperatives of the wild, of the other.
Gabion Tower may well be a noun of a thing, but it harbours the verb of the world’s complex, ultimately seditious, unending weave.
And that makes Gareth Lichty quite the troublemaker.
By Gil McElroy