On ViewHammond Harkins Galleries
out of the blue
June 19 – September 20, 2020
March 31 – July 1, 2020
July 1, 2020 – Ongoing
To survive COVID-19: Join a new community from afar, keeping up a semblance of productivity, while risking zoom fatigues. Continue artmaking while balancing the threat of sustainability. Enacting civil disobedience while caring for one’s families.
It is under these tensions that Melissa Vogley Woods looked back to the artistic aftershocks of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, in order to temper and make sense of the uncertainty of our present, in a three-site project spanning home, gallery, and museum, that began in late March at the onset of confinement. In Columbus, Ohio, Vogley Woods turned her house on a thoroughfare into an interactive installation, during a time of dissipating social contact. Countering this encroaching anxiety, Always transpired to communicate a historical perspective on the cyclical nature of pandemics, while attempting to raise consciousness and care on a micro level.
Reflective vinyl cutouts based on foliate motifs from a woodblock print designed by French painter Raoul Dufy were installed on the front-facing windows of the artist’s two-level home, itself a 21st-century construction that blends with its surrounding of early 20th-century architecture. Dufy’s Grands Feuillages (ca. 1920), one of his flat, silhouetted, and overscaled graphic patterns influenced by the Wiener Werkstätte, was issued by Bianchini-Férier, the Lyon luxury silk company founded in 1880. 100 years later, Vogley Woods deployed this foliage to be activated through mobile phone camera flashes at night. The house glowed as a temporary beacon, flashing back on its pedestrian-viewers, and turning the sidewalk into a communal space for art viewing, at a time when cultural institutions and activities had been put on hold. The pedestrian-viewers were encouraged to share their images on social media, which Vogley Woods reposted on her Instagram Stories. By zooming into an instance of artistic production from a previous epidemic, Vogley Woods hoped to bridge the polemics and contextualize the shock of our current one. Like a collective shot in the arm, Always advocates for the potentiality of the present and in artmaking’s transformative power.
For the semi-permanent installation Always CMA, Vogley Woods covers the 130-foot-long glass canopy that extends from the museum entrance in a similar way. Here, the pattern is styled after a bouquet of flowers depicted in a 1919 painting Still Life with Flowers, by the American artist Louis Bouché from the museum’s collection. Imbricating Bouché and Dufy’s works’ shared historical conditions, the public artwork, like its domestic counterpart, can be activated at night, as well as casting shadows during the day. Walking under this pathway has the sensation of entering a permeable shelter, of our ground shifting, up to the weather, always conditional.
In between these installations, Vogley Woods turned to sunlight as an accomplice and a salve in the gallery exhibition, out of the blue, at Hammond Harkins Galleries, its title perhaps skewering the denial of human-made climate catastrophe and the conditions viable for the pandemic as much as it evokes the color of the cyanotype works.
Thirty-two 24 by 18-inch photograms were installed horizontally, like a timeline wrapping around various walls. They were made by exposing sunlight on sheets of papers covered with light-sensitive solutions, using stencils made from Dufy’s and Bouché’s patterns, and overlaid with the artist’s long-explored motifs: the architectural form of the apse from the Flavian Palace in Rome interlocking with arms of Greco-Roman wrestling positions culled from the internet. Roman emperor Domitian (81–96 AD) would recline and sit on throne-like chairs within the apses throughout the palace, at a remove from the public, in order to project his outsized sense of divinity during his authoritarian regime.
In the photograms, the sketch-like thicket of apses is intercut by the volumes and contours of arms and hands, reverberated across the panels, like a strobic score of a protest song. The gradated bands of light in the cyan pigment mark time and render visible the durational nature of power structures confronted by the raised arms in resistance. Seven panels were exposed on colored paper, unevenly spaced between the more conventional cyanotypes on white paper. I wonder if the resulting deep hues might mark the days of the week and the malleability of time. They asked how we might embody these parallel times of social upheaval, of confinement, of protest, of curfew, and the timeline of COVID-19. Hands, both Vogley Woods’s own that made these prints and those she depicts, reach out to the viewer as a caress, an embrace, an elbow bump, a refusal, a welcome, an energy transfer, and a march, all in one. They are the spirit photography of our present unknown, photograms as calls for action.
The expanse of Melissa Vogley Woods’s work encompasses stability and instability, public and private, night and day, analog and digital, pattern and representation, subjectivity and collectivity, exposure and memory, what can be made and when. I am reminded of her other collective imaginings as a member of the art band Voidgig, who played a short set in early March (full disclosure: I had invited them); her bandmate Gina Osterloh sings, with Liz Roberts on bass: “no guilt shame fear/yes love wild fuck/right wrong let go/cut through to us.” It was the last time many of us had gathered, under Vogley Woods’s percussive rhythm of their love-song activism.