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Allison arranges her sculptures in the same way an author would a paragraph, grouping works into phrases and removing objects for pause. Together the sculptures balance each other within small families, playing out a tensioned existence that works amongst each of their collected parts. Separately the works exist as minimal objects, but gain momentum when combined with others formed within the same clause.
I\W: What new directions has your practice delved into more recently?
AW: Lately I have an urge to paint everything white, and I feel like I’m starting to make a more direct reference to painting in the work. Most of my studio walls are unfinished drywall and the white looks great against those, but once the objects move away from the walls it doesn’t work as well. I am trying to figure that out. I have also been working with Leslie Baum on a collaborative project that I’m super excited about.
How long have you and Leslie Baum been collaborating?
We’ve been collaborating for about a year and a half, and will be showing some of the work at Devening Projects in February. At first we were making without an endpoint, which was nice, and the lack of stakes gave us both a lot of freedom to do things we wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s this nice cross-pollination happening. We have a similar formal language, so I think we trust each other in that. Leslie has been working with tables, so she gave me a bunch to play with and I’ve been deconstructing and reconstructing them into sculptures. Separately, I made about 20 low relief clay panels that she has been painting. They are gorgeous and have shifted the conversation in a really interesting way.
One of your inspirations has been playgrounds and the fact that they are simultaneously visible because of their coloring, and invisible because of their purpose. How does that relate to your own work? Do you feel as if you are shifting the placement of the visible?
I guess I am doing the opposite of what playground equipment is doing. The color in my work becomes really important or visible because it is sparse. In some pieces there is a hint at a potential function, but the function is more imagined. I was using the arch form, but I hadn’t used metal in my work until I started to look more closely at the structure of playgrounds. I learned how to cold bend metal and was able to add that into the mix. In playgrounds the form is the function, while in my work the function is the form.
When I write I stare at the same sentence or paragraph for hours, moving the words around in every possible way until I find the best fit. I do the same thing in the studio. Move, move, move, walk away, work on another piece, move some more, and then finally it comes together. It is such a physical process in the studio, making sentences.
How are your objects transformed when they are put together structurally?
I tend to avoid objects with an overt history or clear reference. If any of the parts carry too much weight, I’m worried they will take away from the whole. That has shifted in my collaboration with Leslie—the table is still recognizable in those sculptures, which has required me to adapt my logic. It’s hard for me to consider the big picture, so I have to create or source parts that then get transformed into something larger. Anytime I try to approach work in the opposite way, from whole to part, things end up feeling stale. The sculptures always turn into series or families that exist in relationship to each other. Each member is distinct in its own right, but gains something by being placed together with the others.
Is this related to how your work often takes the forms of physical words, phrases, and sentences?
Yes. Things clicked for me when I realized I was working visually the way I was working when I was writing or reading. When I write I stare at the same sentence or paragraph for hours, moving the words around in every possible way until I find the best fit. I do the same thing in the studio. Move, move, move, walk away, work on another piece, move some more, and then finally it comes together. It is such a physical process in the studio, making sentences. When I read I get most inspired when writers phrase things in interesting ways. I like unusual structure and cadence, rhythm interrupted with a pause. Pause is a big thing for me.
Can you explain the tension and balance that make its way into each of your works?
I am at a really weird place with that right now. The balance and tension is becoming less overt in terms of the structural connections. It’s more about a formal balance and tension.
How do you relate your drawings to your sculptures and installations?
That’s been my challenge to myself for the past year, to find a way to do that within the work itself. The drawings aren’t blueprints for the sculptures in any way, but they completely relate, and I value the drawings equally. I have been trying to figure out how the sculptures could literally support the drawings. I made this series of sculptures with drawings emerging from textured and painted surfaces. I still don’t know what I think about them, but it’s one way for me to join those parts of my practice.
What does drawing help you figure out about your practice?
It is so direct and quick. I don’t think I put as much pressure on myself with my drawings. I usually do them at home in bed in the morning. Not every day, but I generally find that I am a happier person when I am doing them consistently. I make my students do morning drawings as an exercise, so I decided I should do them as well.