“Looking at it just makes my fingers feel fat” said Billy, a man from Denver who has average sized hands. I knew exactly how he felt.
We were squinting and squatting inside Alexis Myre’s studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn a week before her first NYC solo show, Power of Limits, opened at La Mama Galleria. Myre rents a small space on the top floor of a Second Avenue warehouse that was a colossus of production in the previous millennium. (Advertised features include “a freight elevator and a slop sink.”) This faded-brick mammoth rests near the banks of the Gowanus and looks out over it toward lower Manhattan where I spend most days in a palatial glass mall, at a sit/stand desk, in an eighteenth-floor office, near a window that looks back to here.
Climbing four flights up the rusted metal staircase, it feels good to breathe hard. And to be in a place that is, so plainly, both a testament and memorial to working-class labor. Stepping into Myre’s room after navigating a long, white hallway is like entering the shrine of a temple where objects of many forms have been gathered under a shared devotion to line and life or (in academic terms) math and biology. Pinned to the work are labels like “Directions of Change (2014), silk thread, pencil, peach pit, and paint on Plexiglas” and “Lissajous (2015 – 16 ), felt, pPexiglas, silver, and wild grass seed.”
Viewing Myre’s art within the setting of this factory, my mind churns overtime to decipher exactly what type of force is at work here. The wall pieces could be pages from a da Vinci codex, if he had access to a graphing calculator with a 3D printer that renders solutions in silk thread and seeds. Exploring concepts like infinity, imaginary numbers, symmetry, and dimension, these works echo the narrative of a physicist’s working journal. Instead of blank paper, Myre executes her ideas on Plexiglas tinted in the austere blues and greens of surgical scrubs. Nonlinear functions express their shapes in a filigree of thread and pencil with variables denoted by organic materials. If I only looked at the wall pieces, I would have deemed them products of a logical mind. But in the opposite corner of the studio are these “things” which make that claim ridiculous.
Myre refers to these objects as sculptures. They look like preserved organisms or holy relics from a parallel dimension. They are strange creatures, appearing organic in shape and yet when you look closer, it’s obvious that they are an amalgamation of materials and mechanisms. The titles seemingly derive from a nomenclature system based on mathematics rather than Latin. The little Lissajous (a felt larva with a glass-bulb head and a tail tipped with a peach-pit stinger) is named after the 19th-century physicist who invented the first apparatus to graph parametric equations.
There is an almost instinctual reaction to Myre’s art that compels the viewer to get up close (and then closer) with it in order to understand it better—to look up into it or down on over it—the way we move around specimens in a natural history museum. And like a biological specimen, Myre’s art lures the observer to an intersection of study and display. It is at this junction that I encounter Billy from Denver, kneeling to inspect an intricate curve formed by hundreds of silk lines and red-tipped needles.
As a skilled contractor, he works with his hands and makes much with them. But he’s never made anything like this. I agree with him that such labor doesn’t even seem possible.
AMY MATTERER lives in Brooklyn and writes code by day and words by night. She received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.