Jessica Wohl exhibit featured in The Tennessean

Jessica Wohl's collages of found fabrics are eerily personal

Sewanee professor and multimedia artist Jessica Wohl has spent most of her career creating artwork about the underbelly of domestic life. From collages to embroidered photographs to sculpture, Wohl is known for exposing dark sides of family units, housekeeping and the so-called American Dream. "Letting Go," her new exhibit at Zeitgeist Gallery in Wedgewood-Houston, is the final installment of a years-long exploration of the discrepancies between how we present ourselves and how we actually are.

The exhibition is comprised of eight large-scale wall sculptures that blur the line between two- and three-dimensional art. Using found fabrics and quilting techniques, Wohl's abstract compositions allude to the home as a living being, both sinister and inviting. Each work feels like eerily personal, like it's been resurrected and re-configured from the memory of someone else's past.

Wohl incorporates intimate materials and items that, for her, carry the energy of the people who used them: bed sheets, pants, underwear, stained napkins. "These garments feel alive and lived-in to me," said Wohl. "I want that history to be visible."

A distinctly human element sets this work apart from simple fabric collage: hair. Wohl incorporates hair — growing and graying, real and synthetic — to imbue the sewn fabrics with a sense of the corporeal.

"On a purely formal level, it's another texture," she said. "But it's also a material that we tend to associate so clearly with people. It gives the sense of someone living in the materials."

Closing a chapter

"Letting Go" represents the twilight of a conceptual obsession with the illusion of picture-perfect domestic life. "I've said everything I can on this topic," Wohl remarked.

The abstract forms are intended to look limp and weary to reflect the idea's final stages. The heavy-hanging objects seem to exist largely as evidence of the life they once had in them.

"Blue Bunches," the first piece completed in the series, is an embroidered collage made of napkins, pillowcases, underwear, faux fur and hair. "There were parts of it that looked like phalluses, parts that looked like breasts — it was surprisingly bodily," said Wohl. "The notion of hanging, drooping and sagging started to make sense conceptually after I realized I was repeating it a lot. The lifelessness, the loss of elasticity, the notion that things are wearing out."

For much of her childhood and adult years, Wohl remained suspect of blissful family life. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, she worried she would never be able to have one of her own. "I thought I wouldn't be able to trust that mirage," she said. But now, happily engaged, she says found resolution in her own personal life and wants to move forward in her artwork as well.

"It's a celebratory parting," said Wohl. "The work I anticipate coming after this — which I don't yet have visuals for in my head — still deals with my family and issues that revolve around it and the home, but in a very different way. My work will eventually move more toward notions of race, because that's what my family will be dealing with."

Also at Zeitgeist, don't miss contemporary dance company New Dialect's last two performances of "Planes," a groundbreaking 1968 installation by Trisha Brown, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday in the gallery's back room.

Brown's "Planes" installation is a film of aerial footage, shot by Jud Yalkut, projected on an 18-foot long, 13-foot high wall that has concealed holes at equal intervals across its entire surface. Three performers traverse the surface in slow motion, giving the illusion of falling through space. The 20-minute-long installation aims to reorient viewers' perception of gravity as the performers move across the wall.

"It's an honor for us to have the opportunity to participate in the tremendous legacy of Trisha Brown," said New Dialect director and founder Banning Bouldin. "She's had a enormous impact on how contemporary dances are made today — rule games, chance operations, spatial architecture, structured improvisation, and inter disciplinary collaborative are the bedrock of what we call 21st century dance."

The multiple performances of "Planes" at Zeitgeist, a total of nine throughout the month of May, are organized in conjunction with OZ Arts Nashville and the Trisha Brown Dance Company's "Retrospective in Three Parts" that premiered at OZ earlier in May.

"Brown's work is timeless," said Bouldin. "The collaborations and methods she began exploring in the '60s were groundbreaking then, and are still thought provoking and inspiring today. Each time I speak with viewers after we perform, I find a few who had no idea the work was created 47 years ago."

Sara Estes, for The Tennessean

Burnaway Reviews Zeitgeist Exhibit Harmony of the Spheres

Harmony of the Spheres, video still, 2014

Harmony of the Spheres, video still, 2014

For the latest exhibition at Nashville’s Zeitgeist Gallery, multimedia artists Kevin Cooley and Phillip Andrew Lewis have achieved a rare feat. They’ve produced a diverse exhibition with a single material: vinyl.

When I first heard about the exhibition, I assumed an all-vinyl show would be gimmicky or nostalgic. You know, the way exhibitions of art made out of old books can be.

I was wrong.

When you walk into the gallery, the space feels charged with an ominous quietude. Three undulating black vinyl sculptures, titled Dark Matter 01, 02, and 03, greet the viewer. Perched on white pedestals and each dignified with its own spotlight, the organic formations teem with potential energy, as if at any moment they could worm their way down from their towers and onto the floor. Overhead, Dark Star, a large tentacled form suspended from the ceiling, reaches out in all directions.

Borrowing the title from an ancient Greek concept linking music and celestial movement, Harmony of the Spheres uses vinyl as a tool to explore themes of creation and destruction, black hole theories, points of singularity, and flat-earth philosophies.

Digital scans of vinyl records hang on the main wall. Here, the vinyl records—seen broken, eclipsing one other, or fading into a black abyss—are abstracted to the point that they read more as omniscient oculi than as music devices. Standing in front of the images, which feel simultaneously cellular and planetary, the mind oscillates between perceiving the looping grooves of LPs and the celestial patterns of the cosmos.

Cooley and Lewis push their material to new limits in each piece, from a starry sky made using vinyl pellets on a light box to a dense nugget of torched vinyl to a two-toned wavy tower of layered vinyl.

The exhibition also includes two video works: one is the documentation of a record-breaking performance (literally) and the other, Point of Singularity, is a meditative video featuring thousands of vinyl pellets being sucked into black-hole-like central point.

The vinyl for this project came directly from United Record Pressing, the largest vinyl record pressing plant in the country, which happens to be located near the gallery. The artists made many of the works inside the factory walls. “We were able to not only have records pressed, but also conduct our own long ‘shifts’ at the factory.” Inside, they built sculptures straight from vinyl remnants as they came off the presses and generated the photographs, videos, and sound for other pieces.

Cooley and Lewis, who met and began working together a year ago as residents at the Bemis Center in Omaha, Nebraska, are a powerful team. While accomplished artists individually, their combined vision and aesthetic senses have the ability to chart a lot more territory. “Problem solving, critical engagement, and making connections happens much faster with two brains,” they say. “In general, it has changed the way we approach our own work, and has been a very productive way to make art.”

If their first collaborative piece, which won the 3-D Award at ArtPrize 2013, is any indication of the future trajectory of their artistic partnership, then Cooley and Lewis are just getting started.

“Harmony of the Spheres” is on view at Zeitgeist Gallery in Nashville through April 26.

Sara Estes is the gallery coordinator at Fisk University and curator of the art space Threesquared. She lives, writes, and works in Nashville.


Zeitgeist Neighborhood Wedgewood/Houston Focus of Nashville Business Journal Article

Wedgewood/Houston is the focus of E.J. Boyer's new article in The Nashville Business Journal, "Where Art Lives: Neighborhood's Revival Fueling Nashville Arts Scene." You can read the whole article here.

Zeitgeist Gallery

Zeitgeist Gallery

Describing the old Mays Hosiery Mill, Boyer says, "Inside the building, quiet hallways still bear vestiges, like an outdated time-card punch, of the building’s former life. But behind closed doors, a creative class is bringing the building — and subsequently the neighborhood — back to life."

On Zeitgeist's move to the neighborhood she says, "Last summer, Zeitgeist moved to Wedgewood-Houston, bringing its followers and commercial presence to the community.

“We knew that we were going to have to move from 21st Avenue, and we looked at several areas,” said Lain York, the gallery’s director. “This seemed to be natural. … It made sense to Janice [Zeitlin, the owner,] to move the gallery closer to the studio community.”

York, a painter himself, has rented studio space in Wedgewood-Houston for 18 years.

“First and foremost, this community is about the studio space,” he said. “Us and David Lusk are just retail points. We hope to serve as a resource and provide education when we can. … The studio community is really the lifeblood of a visual art scene.”"

Core Development has a 7 acre project planned in the area, "Vice President of Development Andrew Beaird said it’s too early to know what the final development plan will look like, but said the company wants to preserve the neighborhood’s artisan and maker history.

“What we like about this neighborhood is the fact that there is a significant concentration of artisans, the music industry and a lot of people who are making and creating,” he said. “They need access to a raw space that they can customize.”"