A deep voice fills the room, drifting down from the ceiling. One hears thoughts, reactions, descriptions, spoken calmly and deliberately. The recorded voice of the poet Ana Sisnett is reading "Ninety-Five," a captivating poem written by Blanton Museum of Art curator Annette Carlozzi in response to a wall-sculpture by visual artist Annette Lawrence. Together, the poem, the sculpture, and the sound recording form a subtle and interesting installation at testsite.
For those who do not know and there are many who are unaware of it testsite is an experimental gallery space located in the co-opted living room of art impresario Laurence Miller. It hosts collaborations, usually between artists and writers, and this one between the Annettes, Carlozzi and Lawrence, is well worth a visit. Both writer and artist move into rewarding new territory, responding to and transforming the experience of the art on display.
Carlozzi's poem appears to respond not just to Lawrence's installation of 95 balls of string the substance and remains of a decade's worth of Lawrence's temporary string installations but to her prior works as well, visible in photographs strewn on a glass coffee table. Both the sculpture and the poetry suggest rather than state, creating an air and a substance without pinning it down.
The sculpture is composed of creamy-colored, soft string balls suspended on a wall painted a soothing, neutral taupe. They are arranged in a broken spiral: four arcs, expanding from small (located near the center and about two hands in length) to large (about the swing of an arm). Though loosely constructed, most of the balls are hardball size the string without the leather while a few are just larger than the biggest, juiciest grapefruits you ever saw. Each of the 95 balls has four tendrils hanging from a knot the ends of the two pieces of string by which the balls hang on the wall. These mighty yet slight pieces of string are anchored to the wall by distracting, glossy rectangles of clear packing tape.
Yet the distraction of the tape gets one wondering about the materials Lawrence chooses to use in her oeuvre. They are packaging materials: the plain brown paper in which one wraps a package for shipping, the flimsy cotton string that is tied around the box to be shipped, and the clear tape, a more recent innovation, which has eliminated the need for string and paper. Installation photos label the string "Postal String." More than a reference to the past an obscure allusion at best the materials seem so specific as to be an homage or a memory of a person.
Lawrence's sculpture is elegant and delicate. Yet it is hard to contemplate without tuning out the sound recording. The audio piece more than just a voice reading is powerful, a rare instance of sound (listening) overpowering sight (looking). The volume is forceful, and you listen to the voice intently, aware of it activating the space in the room and encompassing you, the sculpture, and everything else as it fills the room. Although not read fast the reading is modulated in emotion as well as tempo the words cascade, one following the next quickly. The experience is akin to hiking a curvy, rocky path where you are aware of each footfall and not what lies ahead. This is a collaboration that unbalances the normal equations of experiencing art and gives us something new.
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