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Work by Alex Spaulding and Ani Hoover at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center

Work by Ani Hoover at Hallwalls.
Work by Alexandra P. Spaulding at Hallwalls.

Words (Almost) Fail

Ineffable. The thing you can’t talk about, is how artist Alexandra P. Spaulding defines it. And the formidable task she sets for herself is to produce it in her art. Make something ineffable. And presumably produce ineffable experience in the artwork audience.

Artist Ani Hoover endeavors a more modest task, but no less interesting. Making art about something, though something not quite describable, either. Art about figuring out what.

Recent works by Spaulding and Hoover are currently on exhibit at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

Hoover started out primarily a painter. Abstract. Circles were a theme. And transitions. Paintings on long rectangular paper canvases, displayed lengthwise vertically, a little like scrolls, featuring profuse circles in increasing or decreasing densities—the transition—from one end of the long rectangle to the other.

Her subsequent work has largely concerned the transition from painting to sculpture. Two dimensions to three. And recycling, an extension of the circles theme to the real, three-dimensional world.

The circles now appearing in plastic, the preeminent real-world recyclable. Gorgeous, slightly gaudy, slightly glitzy curtains of linked circles of plastic as wall hangings, or just off the wall, so that part of the beauteous effect was the backdrop shadow play on the wall surface. Tapestries you could see through. Scrim curtains. Showy, but at the same time hiding—possibly hiding—something. As curtains hide. As the circle form to start with is a closed figure.

Her work in the current Hallwalls show consists of three sculptural pieces, about memory, memories, her personal past—clearly in two of the cases, as she described in a talk at the opening, not as clear in the third, but you could speculate—and recycling of the past in the present. And sewing, stitching, fabricating in the literal and positive sense of making fabric. Traditional distaff activities. So essentially feminist art, though not particularly political.

A gargantuan ball of yarn, an imposing object—and yarn to the core, she assured—that she began collecting a decade ago, in part in homage to her grandmother, an avid crocheter, she said. In part no doubt just as a committed recycler.

And a huge stitched plastic-bag-construction inflated bear, going back to a memory about her father, a college professor, the bear as a device to get students to write. About their own memories, their personal material. Everybody has some thoughts—so something to say, something to write about—about bears. In the woods, or a childhood teddy bear.

The third piece is the most striking. An enormous heart-shaped wreath of jet-black flower forms of many varieties, stitch-constructed from old bicycle inner tubes. A heart that is somehow also a mourning wreath. (I don’t know if there is or ever was in actuality such a thing as a mourning wreath—to designate a house where someone has died and a wake is in progress—I think of the first story in James Joyce’s Dubliners—I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, but this black wreath made me think there was, and I must have.) A beautiful and powerful piece.

In the Middle Ages, a time and place that cultivated ineffable experience—they would have called it mystical experience—they went about the process by means of solitude, penance, and prayer. Desert experience, with the object of sensory deprivation, or perhaps better sensory replacement, as prelude.

Spaulding attempts something similar with a sort of semi-isolation booth with mirrors on the outside, blank surfaces inside, and ambient sound track of grinding industrial noise occasionally replaced—relieved—by a slight but heavenly little melody on some type of string or hammer instrument, maybe a piano, maybe a celeste. Kind of cut-rate ineffable. But ineffable experience is a hit-or-miss proposition at best. Not available on demand, not accessible by formula. (Even prayer and penance didn’t guarantee it. Nor did failure to deliver mystical experience invalidate the prayer and penance.)

Also from the same artist, two series of paintings in light. Three on light boxes covered with a heavy black material—what looks like black velvet—with slash wounds, so that the light peeks through the wounds. Three with various color fluorescent lights embedded within a translucent glass or plastic material. Blue light in one case, yellow in another, and red and green in the third.

The Alex Spaulding and Ani Hoover exhibit continues through February 28.

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