Lisa Walcott: “Less Still” at Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
by Tori Pelz
The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum’s first Artist Studio Series exhibit opens this Friday with the kinetic sculpture installations of Holland-based artist, Lisa Walcott. The pieces in “Less Still,” Walcott’s first museum, show are museum-scaled iterations of earlier works. However, the visual impact and general mood of these larger works is a significant departure from her more subtle previous works.
Lisa Walcott’s work teeters between the barely there and the constant. Whether in the spray of an aerosol can or the jerky movements of a housefly, Walcott extracts singular banal moments and throws them into a seemingly infinite loop. With the aid of crude motors, mundane objects perform their tasks on repeat. Soap bubbles seep through floor boards. A paper lunch bag inhales and exhales. In appearance, the works are deviously simple, yet they allude to an elusive, unseen presence.
When visible, the animating forces—the bare motors, the latex tubing, wire, and string—counter the eeriness of the absence of a human presence. The wonkiness of the contraptions belies the sheer creepiness of seemingly haunted, robotic gestures.
In Walcott’s two pieces currently on display at the Broad, “Vice Versa” and “Swarm,” the mechanics and the pieces themselves are less wonky and more sophisticated, even elegant.
In an earlier version of this piece, a single red rubber ball hangs on an elastic string that is yanked by a rotating mechanical arm at regular intervals. The endless potential and unpredictability of this child’s toy is rendered as dull and impotent as its monotonous whap, whap, whap. Its regulated movements and rhythm mimic a kind of mechanical reproduction. Play has become drudgery.
In the piece for Less Still, Walcott multiplies the single bouncing rubber ball by about a dozen. Each ball tethered to its own string, each possessing its own automated gesture. The result is both mesmerizing and maddening. The piece recalls a childhood fantasy—and I don’t believe it was mine alone—of setting loose a host of rubber balls down the grocery store toy isle. Except here their movement is tethered, predictable, grown-up. While the earlier piece was a gesture, this one is undeniably an action. It’s no doubt more visually satisfying, as the small army of bouncing balls fills your field of vision. However, the charm of the lone object awkwardly performing its solo act is gone.
The piece, Swarm on display at The Broad is a third iteration of a similar work. The first version consists of a single “housefly,” or a tiny wad of black electrical tape, dangling from thread. A bare motor mounted to a plywood arm slowly turns the dangling string that gets tripped by latex tubing, resulting in an sluggish wobble. In the piece for The Broad, the single black dot is replaced by a constellation of black dots. Punctuating a columnar net of hand-knotted thread are dozens of lead fishing sinkers dipped in black wax. The wonky hanging apparatus of the first version is replaced with a sleek, ceiling-mounted U-bolt that spins slowly from a disco ball motor. Because the ceilings are so high, the hanging device is barely noticeable. So, the piece hovers mid-air, the individual black dots bobbing to their own erratic rhythm. This piece in particular seems to signal a new mode for Walcott. While Swarm still celebrates the mundane and un-monumental, it does so without the absurdity of her other sculptures. Possessing a quiet lyricism all its own, Swarm is simply beautiful.
Less Still opens Friday, July 19 at 7pm with music by The Whiskey Pickers. Admission is free. The show closes October 20, 2013. The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum is located on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI.