Twice Removed, opening at The Active Space

The first thing that caught my eye as I entered Twice Removed , the multimedia exhibition at the Active Space, was a group of people aiming their smartphones at sculptures and drawings along the gallery walls. It is hardly uncommon to see gallery visitors targeting artworks as their next hot tweet these days, but using a smartphone as a conduit for viewing the artwork is more unusual. As a prerequisite for having the full experience of viewing the show, the Bushwick-based artist, Lauren Carly Shaw, handed visitors flyers that provided directions for downloading an app meant to heighten the viewer’s experience. Guiding me through the show, Shaw stopped in front of a large-scale figure drawing and extended her hands forward, trying to find the best angle for the app to recognize the object in order to trigger the animation. The tiny smartphone screen promptly showed how the gestural lines, drawn with graphite, charcoal and ink, grew into an outline of two human figures.

Untitled (Sway1), Graphite, charcoal, India Ink, 80×44” Animation Maika Johnson, Drawing Lauren Carly Shaw, Twice Removed, The Active Space

Similarly, when Shaw targeted a ladder-like row of twigs hanging on a wall with small doll parts at the bottom, her screen showed the toy moving up the ladder in wobbly steps. This sequence, like the rest of the animations in the show, is lighthearted. “I like the animation to bring a sense of fun to the pieces,” she acknowledged.

Up! Medium shell, doll parts, twine, twigs, Dimensions variable installation, Animation by Maika Johnson, Sculpture Lauren Carly Shaw, Twice Removed, The Active Space

Shaw revealed a darker side in the psychologically charged White Girl Problems, the most compelling sculpture in the show. Placed directly on the hardwood floor close to a wall, this sculpture made of cardboard, wood and a lot of fake blond hair represents a female figure curled up in a horizontal fetal position. The artist explained that she wanted to convey the space we seek out during strife; a place to retreat within ourselves. “In addition to the sculpture’s physically compromising position, she has another wall around herself, the exaggeration of her hair engulfing her is a clear place to hide in plain sight,” she elaborated. Stephen Dunn’s poem, Corners which inspired the piece, says it best, “And always the thin line between corner and cornered / the good corners of bodies and those sever bodies / that permit no repose / the places we retreat to / the places we can’t bear / to be found.”

White Girl Problems, Synthetic hair, cardboard, wood, 70x18x20”, Animation Kevin Stermschein, Sculpture Lauren Carly Shaw, the artist at the opening night, Twice Removed, The Active Space

As expected from such a technology-centric show, some of the animation sequences were out of order at the opening, so unfortunately I was unable to see Kevin Stermschein’s coordinating animation for White Girl Problems. Shaw filled in with an apologetic smile, “The animation was very tricky, as the hair has a hard time registering with the software, I wanted her to become electric, more humorous.”

Overview of gallery, opening night, Twice Removed, The Active Space

Influenced by artists such as Robert Gober, Kiki Smith Louise Bourgeois, and Salvador Dali, Shaw says she is interested in the human body as an object. She starts with an image or an object as reference, her larger sculptures and drawings, for instance, are based on her own form and body movement. “I am interested in the way our forms change, both in space and through time,” she said. Working with the animators has provided her a unique opportunity to “breathe a second life” into the otherwise inanimate objects. Typically the animators are initially interested in how she sees the figure moving when it is animated but after some back and forth she likes to have them respond in whatever way they see the movement. “Once it’s made, it’s just the beginning of a new creative and collaborative process,” she reflected.

Human Animal, Animal pelts, pig skull, 84x36x36, Animation Kevin Stemschein, Sculpture Lauren Carly Shaw, the artist at the opening night, Twice Removed, The Active Space

Overall, the notion of incorporating the hottest technological gadgets in an art viewing experience often borders on gimmicky. Yet, utilizing technology such as a smartphone app, which is so seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, also carries the potential to go beyond the “cool” by highlighting the complexity of what is real in our pixel-infested culture. It is interesting to see how Shaw’s collaborative efforts will develop to further excavate the deep and quirky layers of her surreal imagination. As she commented while we were walking through the show, “I feel this is a beginning of something.”

“Twice Removed” is now on view Fri-Sun 1-6PM and by appointment now through December 8th at The Active Space in Bushwick and is presented by Second Screen Reality. Artwork by Lauren Carly Shaw, Production Management by Lindsay Saunders, Animations by Kevin Sternschein, Maika Johnoson and Daniel Faria.