Site-Specific Drawings in New Museum Show Stretch Language

In connection with the new exhibition, “Second Sight: the Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art,” The Bowdoin College Museum of Art will be will be hosting an artist’s talk with Nyeema Morgan, on April 13, at 12 p.m.

 

For a few days in February, Chicago-based artist Tony Lewis took over one half of a gallery at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. With a team of fifteen Bowdoin student volunteers and his two assistants, and armed with power tools, screws, paint, rubber bands and graphite powder, Lewis undertook the significant task of creating two large site-specific drawings for the museum.

The video above captures part of the process, from Feb. 15 to 18, of making one of the pieces on a museum wall.

Lewis’s wall drawings are part of the museum’s current exhibition of American art, Second Sight: The Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art (open through June 3). The show, which gathers the work of twenty-two contemporary artists, explores “the significance of what we cannot see, whether by choice, habit, or physiological limitations, in the world around us,” according to curator Ellen Tani, who is Bowdoin’s current Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow. One such area of artistic investigation is language.

Tony Lewis, American, born 1986. “1459 * Stand out from the crowd”, 2018. Rubber bands, white graphite powder, and screws. Courtesy of the artist.

Lewis’s installations, as Tani describes, “regularly engage the relationship between language and abstraction, and expand the practice of drawing to a sculptural and architectural scale. They focus our attention on the voice of authority, which printed language often disguises.” The larger drawing in Second Sight consists of appropriated text: 1459 ♦ Stand out from the crowd spells out its title in rubber bands coated in white graphite powder, screws, and paint. Lewis says he encountered this particular phrase (and many others like it), in the best-selling manual Life’s Little Instruction Book, first published in 1991. After reading some of the book’s snippets of so-called wisdom, Lewis questioned if they were in fact universally applicable, or if they were not intended for the life circumstances of a non-white man living in the United States.

Tony Lewis, American, born 1986. “Rubber,” 2018. Rubber bands, graphite powder, and screws. Courtesy of the artist

Lewis’s other site-specific drawing, Rubber, appears as an abstract gesture but represents a form of language: it is the Gregg shorthand character for “rubber,” made of black graphite-coated rubber bands. Gregg shorthand is a stenographic system for recording spoken language; its cursive-like form is actually phonetic, each section of a line corresponding to a sound.

“[Rubber] is concerned with the display of content, the actual content of the writing system as abstraction, as shape, as form, and as language and as sound,” Lewis said in an interview with Tani. “One of the main reasons why I like that drawing is because it is a surface piece. It is about the here and now, in your body looking and seeing and reading. It doesn’t take you anywhere else, it is about itself, and it is almost like a deep sigh — or a tense sigh.”

 

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