Beauty in the Daily Grind

Lisa Walcott Sculpture

Carry On, 2015. Flour, plaster, water, yeast, sugar, salt, oil, bowls, towels, timers, tools, cupboard.
Image courtesy of Lisa Walcott

In her exhibition Living with Myself, kinetic sculptor Lisa Walcott gives concrete form to abstract  sensations (as abstract as, say, the feeling one gets after eating).  There’s a limit to the amount of abstract information that a sculpture can deliver, and Walcott bravely pushes its capacity to the limit.  But, as personal and elusive as some of these sculptures are, they possess sufficient humor, wit, and visual appeal to engage the viewer, even without the helpful explanatory cards on the wall. 

Her show comprises two floors of the Grand Rapids Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), a very chic five-story exhibition space with a crisp urban feel.  The space (and the art within) deserves more traffic than it presently gets.  Walcott’s exhibition is part of the UICA’s series Coming Home, which presents the work of both emerging and established Michigan artists.  In Something of Myself, Walcott mostly uses the banal stuff of the domestic interior to articulate the sometimes conflicting sensations that domesticity may evoke.

Her kinetic installation Made Up is unmissable, filling a large gallery with about a dozen round tables, each perpetually spinning around a pivot, their tablecloths gracefully twirling like dresses.  Walcott describes the whimsical work as suggesting “the imaginative side of daily life—perhaps a coping mechanism.”  A coping mechanism for what, exactly, she doesn’t say.  But the repetition and monotony of her kinetic sculptures that fill the next floor gently hint at an answer.

These works evoke indefatigable routine, a motif Walcott wittily alludes to even in the palindromic titles she gives some of her works (On and On, for example, or Do To Do).  Her sculptures move with the predictably and regularity of the interminable hands on a clock: a pull-chain light switch is perpetually tugged on and off as if by an invisible hand; an animated pile of blankets seems to inhale and exhale (rising and falling, rather eerily); a doorknob slowly turns, never stopping.   Even a suspended diaphanous white curtain which initially seems to freely blow with the air currents is, on closer inspection, subject to an elaborate but hidden apparatus which slowly tugs at its hem, animating its movements in the same manner that strings govern the motion of a marionette.

Carry On is a time-based installation for which Walcott assembled a sort of kitchen within the gallery, replete with a small table upon which sits sugar, salt, and flower.  Throughout the show (but off site), Wolcott continues to make dough, which she then stashes in this makeshift kitchen, marking the passage of time with these floury “bloated tick-marks for time passed.”  Nearly a dozen kitchen timers on the table underscore the redundancy of the task of making daily bread.

Lisa Walcott Sculpture

Something of Myself (installation photo). Image courtesy of Lisa Walcott

Because of the introspective nature of this exhibit, some information gets lost in translation.  But viewers will surly identify with the notion of the monotony of the daily grind.  However, Walcott isn’t a prisoner in the home; her works treat the repetition of domesticity with ambivalence.  After all, the motion of her whimsically dancing tables and gently moving curtain is, though predetermined and mechanized, never boring.  On the contrary, she seems to find a certain beauty in the mundane.

Carry On will be on view at the UICA through early February, but Lisa Wolcott’s work can still be seen at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts (Michigan) from February 26-April 17, and at Elon University (North Carolina) from March 14-April 15.

Lisa Walcott’s website contains additional images and video of her kinetic works:

More information on the Grand Rapids UICA can be found here:

By Jonathan Rinck

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