Ingenuity is art’s most daunting challenge. Want to kill some hopes? Utter the words, “It’s been done.”
Reputed curator Hans Ulrich Obrist sought to negate and embrace that hobgoblin in resourceful fashion. Combined with artists Bertrand Lavier and Christian Boltanski, he compiled a perpetual exhibit entitled “do it” that has wound the globe for more than 20 years and manifested in well over 50 institutions. Now Mobile is added to that list.
The exhibit isn’t shipped in crates. It’s a compendium of 250-plus written instructions from artists to future collaborators for works shaped by personality, place and time.
Mobile Museum of Art’s Elizabet Elliott spent months in planning, contacting potential participants and letting them pick from a handful of “scores.” The result was a playful challenge to both artists and viewers.
What stayed with this viewer most? One of the first exhibits encountered was a stack of Post-its and pens with the sole instruction, “Doodle.” Results were festooned across a wall. It was perplexing how many were solely language, phrases with no other visual component. Is that doodling?
An inherent paradox was obvious in more focused drawings. Aren’t doodles absentminded scribblings which emerge while the mind is preoccupied? Look at old school notebooks or phonebook covers where doodles sprout like weeds.
So then how do you authentically doodle when you’re so self-conscious of the result? If not an offhand, subconscious product, how’s that actually a doodle?
Dixon Stetler tackled Alison Knowles’ “Homage to Each Red Thing” (1996) in impressive fashion, employing bales of Salvation Army clothes that dominate one side of the hall. There’s a red sign post sprouting wooden arrows with scarlet-themed place names and mileage to each, further highlighting the exhibit’s ties to the larger world. There’s a gumball-type machine dispensing snarky haikus. Maybe its most spirited component is video of red-clad New Yorkers employing public dance as protest.
Keith Walls printed posters per Yto Barrada’s Jonathan Swift-inspired score to campaign for creation of a new government position. Proliferation would be great, to see calls for a Chief of Causeway Culture or King of Bienville Square Vagrants appear around town.
Bruce Larsen’s installation is complex and intimidating. The portico and assembly of found objects bears gravity and whispers dark secrets. It contrasts nicely in close proximity to Susie Bowman’s delicately suspended pottery.
Luke Andrianopoulos followed a direction to “devise the most horrid tale possible” in creating a children’s book. His result is delightful. Wilford Brimley, gluten, carbohydrates, acupuncture and numerous forms of contemporary “woo” are woven into a cautionary chuckle with healthy skepticism.
Lucy Gafford created a monumental artwork for animals, a cat castle/scratching post towering some 10 feet or so above the floor. Three ceramic felines sit perched, austere and aloof as cats should be.
There’s participation papers for attendees to follow in their own time. “Invite a stranger to breakfast.” Another orbits righting previous wrongs, which personally would take the remainder of this writer’s life.
Although known for her figurative paintings, Lauren Woods created her first-ever video work when she selected a 2012 Helene Cixous score: “Without losing heart, Go every night to Lethe’s wharf, (See the address in Hamlet), To await the Dream’s arrival…” Woods’ result is pensive, aided greatly by Treay Larrimore’s ethereal musical track. She credited her dance background and fondness for silent movies as key inspiration.
Performance artist Lillian McKinney’s piece is from Pierre Huyghe’s “Instruction” (2004) and direction to “extract the coefficient of friction” then “intensify it” to “amplify the reality of the situation.” Costumed, the artist sat inside a sizable wooden frame stretched with sheer fabric and sewed separate colors of thread through each of the gauzy box’s walls.
Periodically she wrestled with an angular, wooden contraption, bending and reshaping it into a chair or a stool, occasionally collapsing it in an attempt cuddle on the floor. It never looked comforable or cooperative and seemed the source of friction in an analog of domesticity.
McKinney has regular performances on Thursdays at 1 p.m.. Special performance times for her and others are posted on the MMoA website.
Other artists from the area — Rachel Wright, Colleen Comer, Wanda Sullivan, Chris Cumbie, Amanda Solley-Wilson, Micah Mermilliod — are represented with thoughtful work. It’s a wealth of input.
There’s far more on hand: a giant camera obscura outside MMoA’s front door, Phillip Counselman’s interpretation of Yoko Ono’s “Wish Peace” in the education wing, other pieces online and through social media. It’s basically too much for this limited space.
The exhibit runs through July. Bury your expectations, surrender seriousness and go join a global effort in the confines of MMoA.