Last night, I was cured of my cabin fever and its accompanying spaghetti-brain at Oz, where Alex Lockwood‘s enormous installation “Shake” opened as part of the Thursday Night Things series. They packed the house with patrons eager to play with Lockwood’s interactive sculptures. The Nashville artist and COOP member repurposes small, single-use items — bottle caps, bread tags, lottery scratch-offs — to create large and small-scale sculptures and figures. I am always a fan of good reuse art: when swinging around a human-sized sculpture made from thousands of bottle caps, it’s impossible not to think of my own consumption of Diet Root Beer or the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to recycle plastics in the city of Nashville. It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that endures.
Oz dimmed the lights in the 10,000 square foot theater and spotlighted each mega-sculpture. Several bottle cap wigs, I call them, or Shakers, Lockwood calls them, hung from the ceiling, and visitors were welcome to swing them around and crash them into one another. Lockwood laced wire through the bottle caps and looped them into bouquets of varying size and color, producing forms that could have been Muppet monsters. People pushed around Pilates balls (I’m guessing) covered in plastic lids, and clothed themselves in armor made from bread tags. The largest piece is a 25 foot tall tapestry made from thousands of multi-colored shotgun shells, and though it looked delicate, plenty of people pushed and pulled at it. It reminded me of El Anatsui’s tapestries (and ultimately that his are more impactful and conceptually solid.) The thing I liked most about the exhibition was the sounds. Although it was difficult to hear them over the screams of too many children, the plastics made a variety of delightful sounds as people interacted with them–whirrings and ribbings, clackings and clickings. Also, in a truly juvenile moment, I tried to stare down a red-haired kid who had been dominating the coolest Muppet wig monster for a full hour, but he continued to twirl it around and around as I boiled with a dull, self-deriding rage.
I actually preferred Lockwood’s smaller sculptures, a garden of oceanic plants and resplendent flowers. The sculptures, culled from discarded lottery scratch offs and other repurposed material and folded at sharp angles, mimic living organisms. Because Lockwood uses spirals and radial symmetry, some of them look for an instant like they’re moving — a sea anemone embracing its prey, a many petaled tulip yawning as the sun goes down.
While I admire Lockwood’s work for the reuse element and fortitude of its repetition (I’d love to hear about his art making process), I’m not sure he made the mark conceptually. I know writers who never read artist statements or examine the exhibition text because they don’t want to be informed by the artist’s intentions or other people’s interpretations. That’s just not me. I love context although sometimes after I collect my initial perceptions. That said, “Shake” proposes to “represent the artist’s conception of the continuum of the personal and the public, as told through three distinct viewpoints: the interior of the individual self, the surface of the individual body, and the relationship between distinct bodies.” The truth is that as much as I wanted to, I just didn’t see it.
Do you know what’s the best? The best is when you experience an art exhibition or collection of work, and after you’ve had time to mull it over, you talk to the artist or read the statement, and the words confirm what you know and extend it, formalizing what you already feel. The work speaks for itself, and the words add to it but don’t try to pilot your experience. I think Dave Hickey wrote that he prefers art that elicits “What? Wow!” rather than “Wow! What?” I do, too. I want to enter an installation and get my bearings, held up only by the strength of the work itself.
To be fair, I might grasp Lockwood’s conceptual framework if I saw the exhibition after opening night, when there weren’t hoards of children. I’m not missing the point: Lockwood is clearly making fine art accessible by inviting interaction with it, and that’s why it’s so palatable to people who don’t normally spend their time in art galleries. There is definitely room for this in Nashville and in the art worlds. It just didn’t leave room for me to reflect on what the work made me think and feel. And that’s important.
The show is on view through March 5. Admission is $5. Buy tickets here.