Yikes! I wrote this then didn't post it! Argh! I'm posting it now!
hen I responded to Woff's email asking for help installing her new show, I thought I'd be grouting holes and leveling lines. Instead, Woff got all Mark Kostabi on it and had us do the painting grunt work to her evolving design. She freehanded outlines of hillocks, trees, and--in my case--bamboo, and we colored in the lines with flat housepaint. We were like a 40-person paintbrush.
It was particularly interesting because she hadn't planned it all out beforehand. We got the paintbrush-eye-view of the artist's process. (Perhaps less interesting, although horrifying, to discover that I have absolutely no painting hand left... if i ever had one in the first place. Okay, whatever.)
The piece takes up the back room of what is currently Southern Exposure Gallery, and both is and isn't an attempt to create an immersive environment suggestive of the PIs' lush tropicalishness, the terrorist-inspired security paranoia that exists in different measures both in the US and the Philippines, and the monolithic commercialism that deforms the minds and landscapes of both.
Wrapping a single landscape around three walls, arranging the perspective so that foreground trees disappear into the ceiling-line, and even popping the foregrounded foliage out of the wall slightly by forming it out of painted, jigsawed pieces of pressboard, all seem attempts to create an illusion. But only for a second. The images are all painted solid and flat, outlined in black, comics-style. Even the metal detectors, the size and shape of the real thing, are deliberately simplified.
And the forms she has standing in for institutional structures--the row of lockers at a high school, the rows of balconies at Manila's Megamall--aren't even filled in or outlined, but rather left as undefined blocks of grey paint.
It's hard to find a place to stand here, literally and figuratively. The landscape is tropical but the room is empty. There's an organic line running through everything, and symbols of plenty, but the whole has more of Woff's minimalist stamp on it. It's a spare desire for profusion.
Even knowing the sources of a lot of these images, the piece is hard for me to read.
As I hinted before in talking about Stephanie's show, this piece is about minimalism and profusion ... and those are hard things to put together. Where do you fall down? You want a minimalist profusion, or a profuse minimalist, show to fall down on one side or the other, but Woff manages a sort of balance between the two which feels unacceptable.
It's pretty challenging, trying to get with the lushness and then getting stopped by the grey monoliths ... or trying to get with the empty space and then coming up against tropical flowers. You can't rest in one thing or the other. Strange.
Seriously, I'm still not sure what to think, but I definitely find something new here, and something that demands more thought and engagement than the typical installation. For one thing, the irony is missing. There's a humor here, but it's a hard humor to characterize. Is it making fun of itself or of third world economics or of first world stereotypes? Or is it just joking along on its own, regardless of who might be in on the joke?
The megamall namecheck is pretty opaque, as are the high school lockers. What to make of this?