On first view, “Waste Not,” an exhibition featuring works by Lorraine Sullivan, Anne Plaisance, Stephen Martin and Kim Triedman (the show’s curator), holds many elements of life — or past life — that I’m quite fond of, especially pieces from old storefronts and corner stores and weathered buildings that I attach to feelings of warmth.
Old windows are turned into picture frames, store fixtures become statues and a partially disembodied mannequin sits in a pre-prefabrication wooden wheelchair seems to have been positioned to ensure no one visits the exhibition feeling alone (the work is Plaisance’s “No Love Lost.”).
And, indeed, in late 2018, a gallery is the one place many artisans don’t feel alone.
A closer look, however revealed some works that could — and perhaps should — feel disturbing. Three works by Plaisance, who came to the United States from Paris three years ago, featuring barbed wire, recall artworks and imagery that were used to spawn political action in the late 1970s and 1980s — the anti-Nazi, anti-nuclear, weapons disarmament and apartheid movements, especially in Europe.
“‘Sour Times’ (a partially tattered but not horribly weathered 49-star American flag that’s held in place by barbed-wire) is, for me the expression of the pain that many Americans can feel right now, divided by hate, suffering from political decisions tearing apart families and friends,” Plaisance said. “This beautiful flag, with so many dreams and values, an inspiration for so many people in the world, is being constrained by the hate, fear and pain that is excruciating wherever we look.”
“God’s Away on Business,” a framed white outline of a face that reveals no clue to the person’s ethnicity or place of origin, with barbed wire atop of it, is instantly striking. It takes a bit longer to realize that the three instruments that compose “In Memoriam” have had their strings replaced by the slicing metal form.
“I use barbed wire as a direct reference to the Second World War, and pain in general; it’s such an evocative material,” Plaisance said. After finishing my studies in Paris, I lived 18 years in Warsaw, Poland, where the ghosts of the Holocaust and World War II are still present in the atmosphere, the culture, the arts, the people, written in the bricks and soil of Warsaw.”
Sullivan seems capable of turning any discarded object into a fresh work of art, whether reinventing the ripped-out parts of a typewriter into a commentary on the sometimes-torturous challenge of doing battle with the written word (“The Writer”) or taking the backs of five no longer playable guitars and turning them into a political statement (“One in Five”).
One of the exhibition’s most haunting pieces, Sullivan’s “The Other Side Sucks,” features what looks to have once been a wheel-powered machine part that’s holding two leather pouches filled with gargoyle-faced (or disfigured) heads on bodies stretching out towards one another looking not unlike a crowded group of refugees crushed together on a boat.