The rich scent of wine fills the gallery with an atmosphere of playful invitation. A sensory playground of investigative and contemplative artwork surrounds me. Lexie Hoffman, Emily Lowenberg and Naomi Trego have created three bodies of work that enter into a dialogue of the senses in a manner that brings new light to the individual pieces.
Lexie Hoffman presents work of a multi-faceted nature that explores intersections and translations of sensory experiences. She investigates the science of sound and our systematized solutions to the incapacitation of the senses, using Braille and sign language as her muse. Her work glows in contemplative quietude and reveals a kind of secret vitality from within its abundant metaphors.
Several square panels of raw wood variously featured Braille code and both representational and abstract illustrations relating to the ear and the sensation of hearing. The imagery is burned into the wood and washed over with stains of coffee, tea and wine. These panels take on a corporeal presence, like scarred flesh relaying a memory, a marker of paralyzed perception.
Beeswax and q-tips appear in a number of Hoffman’s pieces. They make metaphorical reference to deafness—the wax being a kind of barrier in the ear. In two different instances, the q-tips are used to create Braille. With this, Hoffman unites the notions of blindness and deafness. The wax speaks with intriguing duality, for wax is at once representative of a barrier and a passageway. In some ancient cultures, Bees were believed to be a bridge between the physical world and the underworld. Thus, the idea of beeswax as earwax relays an interesting idea, suggesting that the incapacitated physical senses in fact provide a kind of opportunity for heightened accessibility to the spiritual. In ancient Greece, the occurrence of a bee landing on the lips of a newborn was believed to be a heavenly blessing of eloquence. So our ideas of eloquence, conversation and insight are subject to challenge. This kind of complexity present in Hoffman’s work lends itself to deep reflection on the inevitable limitations of our empirical experiences.
I found myself slightly lost among the collection of objects displayed on an old, wooden ironing board. Arranged on the board were some leaves, a few dozen q-tips dipped in yellow beeswax and a stack of old books. These objects appeared as incomplete thoughts that fell short of delivering the same power as the work on the wall, yet they seemed to contain the seeds of an important idea. On the whole, the display read as slightly arbitrary and disparate.
Hoffman’s work inspires rich contemplation of the intricate physics and physiological processes involved in our sensory experiences. Her work is abundant with metaphors and subtleties that lead to meditation not just on the physical nature of sensory perception and communication, but also on broader notions of conversation and communion.
Emily Lowenberg translates the divine and spiritual into physical objects that prompt curiosity and exploration. Her altered desk is certainly the most captivating piece within her body of work. The near-magical desk has been altered to feature secret drawers and panels. It yields wonder and surprise, as the viewer is encouraged to open up the compartments and discover small treasures of glass jars of water, a pool of black ink, white yarn, soil, plants, and cedar. It is a treasure chest of abundant textures, colors, and scents each with metaphorical significance.
This plethora of sensory delights seems to act as a language to illuminate the nature of something spiritual. The element of smell cannot not go unnoticed in Lowenberg’s work. The strong aromas of wine, cedar and soil speak to the invisible yet undeniable nature of Divine presence. The multisensory approach suggests that the nature of God is perhaps ultimately found in the negative spaces of our empirical perception. The desk evades overt and clichéd references to religion yet subtly speaks to the rewards of faith and the unpredictable nature of the Holy Spirit.
Lowenberg’s other pieces are also deeply spiritual, addressing prayer and communion with Christ. One wall featured a series of plexiglass panels, adhered on the backs of which are dozens of transparent communion cups. The residue of wine adds a subtle tone to the piece and creates lively, ethereal shadows on the wall behind it. This piece, entitled Wailing Wall, recalls a stained glass window. If there is an attempt to evoke a transcendent experience, however, it is hindered by the piece’s underwhelming scale.
At times, Lowenberg’s religious themes feel too overt and ineffective. This is partially due to the literal nature of the titles that are displayed by each piece. At other times, however, she successfully creates an opportunity for a transcendent experience. Her work points to a rich inner life intent on manifesting a curious and thought-provoking experience for the viewer rather than relaying dogmatic opinions or sentimental expressions.
Along the back wall of the gallery are ten sketchbooks, nailed open to the wall so that they fan wide to reveal their contents. Naomi Trego filled these books over a period of ten weeks in an attempt to integrate art more fully into her life and cultivate creativity and inspiration. The result was an exhaustive record of daily observations and immersions.
Trego filled her books with sketches of anything and everything in front of her: notes on circumstances, ideas, loose artifacts of daily activities and spontaneous creativity and experiments with different media. The pages feature both abstract and observational watercolor sketches, ink drawings and prints. Trego’s work is not only about process—it is process. The end product is beside the point. However, the content of these sketchbooks does not seem to reach any sort of apex. There is no detectable underlying growth or change throughout her visual timeline.
In the center of the gallery is a sculptural piece made up of Trego’s life’s collection of sketchbooks. The books are arranged organically into a series of cylindrical forms of varying sizes. Some are fanned open with pages elaborately folded inward at different angles, which changes the shapes of the books dramatically. The sculpture seems to exude a singularly musical quality. Upon walking around the installation, the circular patterns evoke a floating melody that rises and falls rhythmically with the height of the stacked books, resting occasionally on a book folded open to reveal a single page.
This amassing of pages and pages of illustrations and notes speaks of a ritualistic method of cultivating inspiration. Slightly obsessive, devoted and disciplined, Trego has demonstrated a kind of integrity and passion reminiscent of a dedicated monk who tends daily to his sacraments and meditations in faith that they will yield something beautifully transcendent. In this case, making art is a means of arriving at inspiration for further art. This concept is visually reflected in the use of old sketchbooks to build sculptures. Trego’s mantra, as she writes in her statement, is to simply produce- whether or not the inspiration is there. Her sketchbooks certainly inspire the viewer with a call to heightened awareness, disciplined productivity, and greater creative output.