Standing in the central gallery, I cannot help but think this is a COVID-tired art historian’s dream. A beautifully designed gallery with a fantastically curated show is wildly refreshing for my zoom-weary soul. Halls + Walls second exhibition of the academic year features sculpture and digital fabrication artwork from UT Fine Art’s undergraduate students. It includes a wide range of media, such as assisted readymades, installation art, and dioramas, with something to interest and engage any viewer.
Glowing shades of violet and magenta, the Halls + Walls virtual gallery is the perfect mix of creative alternate reality and familiar setting. The gallery is a beautiful space with high ceilings, large windows and even shadows from “natural” light on the walls. It is clear architect and curator Katy McCarthy spared no detail in designing this wonderful experience. Viewers should tour the exhibition with the catalog (or website) in hand (or in a nearby tab) to get the full experience of the art. Designed and edited with the help of Angela Ruiz, the website provides high quality images of each artwork and links to interactive exhibits. Several artworks, such as Sarah An’s performance piece and Celine Lassus’ virtual space will require the website to see their work with only stills provided in the gallery. The space is easy to navigate with the WASD keys and the space bar to jump (For those who are not so technologically inclined like me, use the WASD keys to move like you would the arrow keys. They are all in the relatively same position. I made W stand for “Walk” to remind me which key was forward. S is backward and the A and D key move you from left to right. Toggle with the mouse to look around and while walking to guide the figure.)
In the central gallery, the viewer will first encounter the work of Sarah An. No title is given for her work, but the single material listed is junk mail. Viewers must wonder whether or not the sheets of paper are printed out from An’s inbox or if they are discards from her mailbox. This is also a critical moment to have the website in a close tab—her work goes beyond the three photos in the gallery. On the website, viewers will find a video of her minute and a half walk following what looks to be a paper rope from a door to a blue box. The beginning and end of the rope are (figuratively) tied together by her use of the color turquoise in both the door and the box. The rope seems to stem from a collage on the door and finishes in a similar manner on the box. The three stills in the virtual gallery show two stills from the journey and the box at the end of the rope.
Turning and entering the gallery to the right of An’s work, viewers encounter the mixed media work of Diego Carlson. His humanoid form hangs with a lightbulb head from a string of lights in an outdoor space. The photographs span both walls of the gallery, making the viewer feel as if they were also hanging out on the string of lights. Creative and witty, this piece brings to mind the image of a “lightbulb going off in your head.” This idea-man looks as if he is hanging on to the cord and might be trying to climb across the string of lights. Each photograph is beautifully composed, with the tiny lights carrying the viewers eye through the entirety of the image.
Continuing in the same direction into the next gallery, the viewer will encounter the work of Sophia Kalimarides and Luna Davis. Kalimarides’ installation sculpture We Are Worms presents a larger than life stuffed red worm wrapped around a plant hanger on a fence. Worms personally bring to mind fishing and gardening as a kid or high school biology. The simplicity of the creatures is captured in the simplicity of Kalimarides’ work, and the title she gives reminds us that we may be simpler than we often think.
Davis’s work provides a different look on humanity. Centrally featuring Barbies, Can You Do This? places babies in the washing machine. This is another work where the viewer will need to tab over to the website to see the full view of Davis’s diorama. What initially looks to be a scene from Barbie’s playhouse turns out to be truly uncanny. Not only are there fetuses forming in the washer and drier, but upon closer inspection, one can see a pink plastic rifle (not the twirling kind) as well as images of fetal development, dismembered hands and faces, and an ominous yellow figure in the doorway. The pink shag rug and glitter floor don’t detract from the fact that the room poses a great many serious questions. How does one respond to the news that a friend is pregnant? When does “Oh no” become “Congratulations!”? How does one approach pregnancy and fetal development in this day and age?
Walking back to the central gallery and to the right brings the viewer to another of Davis’s works as well as the work of Jasmine Chock. Davis’s Google Me is a mixed media sculpture of googly eyes covering an old box computer. A clever play on words, Google Me is a lighthearted energetic piece that explores the way viewers interpret materials and the words we use to describe things. Chock’s For When You Have to Go and for When You Have to Go immediately harkens Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Yet not lost in the wake of the infamous readymade, Chock presents her porcelain throne in a different manner. Instead of changing its orientation, she adds wheels. Toilets are typically stationary, and one typically uses them in a stationary manner. Chock challenges this assumption as well as the assumed privacy involved. She brings a whole new meaning to the “port-a-potty.”
To navigate the stairs, the viewer might need to use the space bar to jump up the steps. It is easy to manage and certainly worth doing to see the work of Nathan Clark and Celine Lassus. Clark’s installation sculpture mimics the two stone slaps it sits beside. Made from carboard and clay, the form examines the textures of stone, clay and carboard, and how though they may all seem so different, they can look the same. And though they may look the same, they cannot always function the same. The function of a clay covered box will certainly always be different than that of a granite slab.
Lassus’ Materiality presents an interactive other-worldly virtual experience linked on the Halls + Walls website in addition to the stills displayed in the gallery. Viewers won’t want to miss a single detail and should turn their screen to full brightness before they start exploring. The dynamic virtual space glimmers and gleams copper, gold, and platinum. Three tiers of copper-scaled discs surround a floating metallic form. The form resembles a mushroom in shape, serving as the centerpiece of the space and as a launching pad to help viewers navigate to different levels. Using the same WASD keys as one would in the gallery, the space is easy to navigate and should be explored from each tier. Viewers will want to heed her warning to beware the edge— if they fall too soon, they will have to restart the program. However, if at the end they want to zoom out and see the form from a distance, I recommend taking a dive into the abyss.
Returning to the central gallery and taking a left, the viewer will enter the final space. Last, but certainly not least, Miranda McShan’s The Novel is a breathtaking installation piece. McShan weaves leaves and book pages together in a large wreath hung between the rails of a staircase. Pages trail behind the wreath, giving it a sense of immateriality. The wreath acts almost like a monument in its setting, like a published book is a monument to its author’s success. Deep and romantic, McShan’s work calls to mind the beauty of writing as a craft.
The Halls + Walls second exhibition addresses material, form, and function of the spaces we inhabit and the commonplace items we don’t think twice about. Through clever manipulation of the spaces and items, these artists challenge the viewers to reconsider the way they approach the world and look at each thing anew.