by Allison Grimaldi-Donahue
When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride
INTERSTATE PROJECTS | JANUARY 5 - FEBRUARY 4, 2018
When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride, Michael Welsh’s solo show at Interstate Projects in Bushwick, is a world outside of time and beyond place, where past and future create an unsettling vision of the present. It is an interdisciplinary sensorial experience of texture, sound, and air. I have had the privilege of knowing Michael Welsh for over a decade and When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride is a testament to the range of media he uses and to the questions about the seen world his work constantly demands of us.
The gallery resembles a shelter or a half-finished rec room. The first thing you notice are eight swamp coolers buzzing by the gallery entrance, filtering cool humid air into the space. Made from five gallon buckets pocked with mesh-covered holes, they’re screen-printed with images of chains and gothic lettering that look like they were pulled from a local band’s t-shirt. While these coolers are commonly used in hot climates in the American South, here they look like the handy-work of a survivalist gang, desperate attempts at making the earth livable. Opposite the swamp coolers is a rain chain, cycling water up and over from a puddle on the gallery floor. The chain looks like a necklace, a weapon, or farm equipment. Water trickles down through the rust—heavy metal that will never dry. The whirring of the swamp coolers creates a soothing white noise that blocks out the green violence of the damp space. Welsh is asking us to consider a precarious future overrun with disaster and invasion. But the effect isn’t panic, it is calm and tranquility, coming in part from the white noise and water dripping down the metal but also from the concrete walls made soft by dense, tattered rug-tapestries.
The tapestries give warmth to a space that is otherwise bare and cold. They hang on two of the four walls and are made of old t-shirts, rags, scraps: one is black laced with streaks of yellow, red, and green, approximately eight by twenty-one feet in size; on the opposite wall is a mostly yellow and orange tapestry, measuring nine by seven. The tapestries are waxy and tough yet mesmerizing in their thick materiality; they feel as though they’re about to hoist themselves from the walls and take to life. Their gaping holes draw viewers in, away from the clamoring earth towards a different planet, or perhaps a different version of this one. The titles of these pieces—I can’t imagine ever wanting to be born again and My skin is my home—direct our attention to the body and our flesh, and how these parts of each of us inhabit the world. The materials and pieces Welsh uses allow for the contemplation of something simpler and slower. They make room for discovering what we have, perhaps, always known: a primordial knowledge of making.
The press release mentions that the show asks us to accept that this world is just one among many. Welsh’s found materials and DIY technology similarly imply a rebuttal of positivism: the progress society imagines it is making is a hoax, and a dangerous one at that. In We Have Never Been Modern, Bruno Latour writes: “The adjective ‘modern’ designates a new regime, an acceleration, a rupture, a revolution in time. When the word ‘modern’, ‘modernization’, or ‘modernity’ appears, we are defining by contrast, an archaic and stable past.” Welsh offers us a meeting with the past that isn’t stable or archaic, a liberating reminder that we aren’t moving forward, we are just moving. When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride works on two levels, suggesting a new conception of the world and giving us the kind of art that will be found there.
- During the opening of the exhibition two other tapestries, Next Life and The money will role right in, both black and white, were temporarily installed in the small special project room to the side of the main gallery. On the floor in front of them were small plants in plastic bottles growing in activated charcoal.
ALLISON GRIMALDI-DONAHUE is a writer based in Rome and New York.