Trace the dynamic zigzags, sunbursts, and bullseyes in Liz Collins’s “Zagreb Mountain Scroll” with your eyes, and you can almost hear the exclamations of a sharp impact, cartoon-style: “THWAP!”, “POW!” But this piece isn’t cartoonish or crudely printed, like a vintage comic strip, nor is it precisely painted, like a large-scale Pop Art scene. Look closely, and you’ll see that the surface of each stripe and razor-sharp boundary line is made from a soft, shimmery blend of Jacquard-woven silk and polyester. Were you to touch this nearly 26-foot-wide work (which you shouldn’t do — but it’s very tempting), its surface wouldn’t feel cool and clinical, but comfortable and fuzzy.
Collins’ new exhibition Conduition, on view at LMAKGallery through October 21st, is full of just these sorts of binary relationships: hard and soft, chaotic and orderly, three-dimensional and flat.
Collins is well known for creating immersive environments. This summer, she created a pale pink, Victorian-inspired library called “Cast of Characters” at the Bureau of General Services — Queer Division and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. “Cast of Characters” was full of portraits by 95 queer artists, all arranged as though they were family photographs or paintings giving color and personal history to a soft, welcoming interior. In late 2017, she created an installation called “Cave of Secrets” for Trigger: Gender As a Tool and a Weapon at the New Museum, in which her works were mounted on the ceilings and walls in a dimly lit room, while videos by Gregg Bordowitz and Dyke Division of the Two-Headed Calf played. Pairs of things were everywhere: sets of chairs were woven together with extra-large lengths of cotton, and twin clusters of ribbon spilled out from wall-mounted works.
These works, as well as others, like “Energy Field,” which was on view at Skidmore College’s Tang Museum from 2015-17, invite viewers to become guests, and step inside, touch things, sit down, and take it all in. “Conduition” takes the form of a more traditional gallery show, in which discrete objects take their place inside a pristine white space with minimal clutter. But it’s as though these works know who made them, and seem to reach off the wall like sculptures, or attempt to cover the entire thing, like upholstery with its own aesthetic agenda.
The exhibition’s title is also a Collins creation: the word “conduition” is the artist’s own portmanteau of “conduit,” “intuition” and “condition,” inspired by a fascination with “electricity and currents, and the way that energy flows through space and between objects,” she tells Hyperallergic. She adds that her love of creating “liquid-looking things” keeps her in the world of yarn and fabric, because those materials’ capabilities meet the needs of her ideas so well.
Recently, Collins has been working with a mill in Italy that creates a woven fabric she describes as being “super flat, devoid of 3D material effects,” and this choice makes possible the trompe-l’œil effect of “Zagreb Mountain Scroll.” It appears to have all the confident precision of a professionally painted sign, but is actually assembled and stitched, even tailored, taking shape as a vibrant landscape of peaks and valleys that seem to converge on a bright red and pink target. Inspired by both Pop and Op Art, Collins says she takes note of vernacular icons like road signs, and the graphics on the backs of ambulances, which she describes as “arresting graphic imagery that calls attention to something and holds a warning.”
Her sculptural work makes use of hard “support” elements, which allow fiber to flow from the wall, like water, as in “Armor Faucet,” a large-scale sculpture that faintly evokes the look of a wrung out mop, or “Spirit Spout,” in which a hidden swath of fuchsia fiber is surrounded by grayish-white strands, as though it were the slowly transforming hair color of a person who’s “going pink” instead of gray. Several other works depend on a more traditionally “pop” color palette, such as “Equilibrium,” which is framed by a “caution”-style yellow and black field of stripes, or “Partners,” which sweetly joins two panels that have the same dimensions, arranged perpendicularly, and stitched together with black yarn.
These works seem to spill out into the room as though they want to be sculptures, yet cling to the wall, wanting to be paintings. “I’m often thinking about what’s underneath and behind things,” Collins tells Hyperallergic, “how that’s coming in to play with architecture. So an idea that drives me sometimes is to create spouts that release energy and liquid from walls. To call attention to what’s inside a wall by making something some out of it.” “Conduition” isn’t technically an installation, and its works stand on their own, without the need for a high-concept interior design. But the works on view here, which tug at our awareness of texture, material, and dimension, take stock of their surroundings, and in asking visitors to do the same, temporarily transform LMAKGallery into an “immersive environment” that seems to be hiding in plain sight.
Liz Collins: Conduition continues at LMAK Gallery (298 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through October 21.