Alice’s Chairs

On Chairs Alive! an installation by Alice Wingwall at Gualala Arts Center, May 2019

Alice’s chairs are of course – chairs alive.  Everything about and by Alice is filled with life – her laughter, colors of her wardrobe, her inquisitive ways, and her art.

Stepping into the lobby of Gualala Arts on Sunday felt like walking into a strange, eccentric world of seemingly disparate objects combined together.  It was a funny, mysterious, adventurous, busy, metaphysical, sturdy world – all at once.  If you know Alice, you know that chairs, gloves, cameras, shoes, clamps, guide dogs are all defining nouns.  Add architecture —especially images of iconic buildings carrying histories of humans creating beauty like museums and cathedrals, add reflective surfaces and crystals, add sky – you’re in Alice’s world.  It’s an abstract universe created by concrete elements of everyday life objects and imagery, and put together with precision and discipline.  Its multitudes of narratives are hard to define, yet they are obviously there and feel strangely familiar.    

There’s a stack of plastic chairs with clamps and yarn on them; there’s a series of photos of a floating chair in a pool, there are wooden hands resting on a chair, on one hand another tiny chair attached as a ring, there’s a chair with black large wings on it (Wingwal of course), chairs with shoes attached to them, or chairs resting on shoes, like they’re ready to take a walk, or take you for a walk.  

In the lobby of Gualala Arts Center all of them face in different directions, non-conforming to a point of view defined by the main entrance.  They ask a viewer to move in space, see them from multiple angles, come closer or bend over to not miss a detail.  More time one spends with them more there is to see.  The consistent use of elements (objects) throughout the exhibit establishes the vocabulary and depending on the context, a chair becomes a frame, a container, a vehicle, a throne, an invitation, or a portal to some other place.  

As I walked among them and read the descriptions that always involve snippets of memories of places and people surrounding the creation, Alice was guiding Donlyn in how to reposition one of the objects.  He would move it, describe the result, Alice would edit further, Donlyn would move it again, describe the new result, and that went on for a while.  

The exchange I observed brought a realization profound in its simplicity – Beethoven didn’t need to hear sounds of the physical world around him to write the most iconic pieces of his last opus.  He heard them IN himself before making them available to others’ ears.  In a work of art what we see as spectators is created by inner vision of the artist, and in Alice’s art that vision is entirely independent from the external, physical aspect of seeing. The translation from inner vision to what we (get to) see is what excites me about her chairs.  These alive chairs have existed in a world encumbered by physical reality of gravity (that’s why they sometimes float in the air too), size, weight, purpose; seeing how they translate to the physical world is as beautiful as it is striking, especially considering the consistency of the language within which the translation happens.

Alice Wingwall: Garden Party Preview, 2013 (from Wingwall’s website)

The Sea Ranch, CA, May 15, 2019

More on Alice Wingwall here:

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