Lines of steel and graphite

Spare and strong
By BRITTA KONAU  |  July 3, 2012

'IN-FLUX' By Isabelle Pelissier, steel, 2012.

It's daunting to engage the cavernous space that is Brunswick's Coleman Burke Gallery. The scale is huge and peculiarities include a series of courtyard windows and several columns. Isabelle Pelissier has proven herself superbly capable of handling the challenge, to impressive effect.

Instead of ignoring the three freestanding columns in the middle of the gallery, Pelissier has made them an integral component of her site-specific installation "In-Flux." The piece is about as spare and elemental as it gets. Six square steel tubes undulate between the columns, with a multitude of others accumulating and dead-ending around the vertical posts. That's all there is. Lines of energy suspended in mid-air — and you. As the best sculpture does, "In-Flux" subtly but forcefully engages the viewer's body and mind. There is no ignoring it. It is sensitive, raw, and smart, all at the same time.

Spanning the length of the gallery, the sculpture requires circumambulation. The strands of metal show markings, dents, and other surface abrasions, and they are almost crudely inter-connected, which seems immensely appropriate in the industrial mill environment of Fort Andross. Not only does the work relate spatially to the gallery interior, it also references and is inspired by nature beyond the walls — the Androscoggin River and its use as a source of power. "In-Flux" evokes a current of water eddying around obstacles, the columns, and slowing down in between. Its sinuous curves and shiny surfaces capture the river's abstracted energy. "In-Flux" makes visible a time-space continuum that the eye cannot normally see, a simultaneity of particles.

While "In-Flux" does not consist of modular units like much of Pelissier's sculpture, it too grows from the tension between chaos and structure and can be viewed as a metaphor for organic qualities generally. The work's taut yet playful lines pulsate with life and capture the essence not just of moving water but of nature itself. One would expect these forces to be interrupted by the columns, but that is not the case at all. Firstly, they are painted the same color as the walls. And secondly, while the brackets that hold the steel elements in place are prominently attached to the columns, the sweeping movement of the rods seems to continue despite any vertical interruption. In effect, the columns visually disappear and give way to the illusion of lines transcending their substance or emanating from them, which makes perfect sense when considering "In-Flux" as a drawing in space. In fact, "In-Flux" shares similarities with graphite. Made of monochrome steel, its reflection of light varies depending on the rods' torque, which also gives the lines depth. This analogy to drawing is made explicit by the second component of the installation: a set of 14 graphite drawings that succinctly sum up the underlying principles of the sculpture.

The vertical sheets of strong paper are the color of the wall and were each folded twice on the horizontal. Over the resulting crease the artist drew vertical graphite lines, either in massive bundles or single, more pronounced ones. The way the drawings are displayed, the fold has been opened partially, and the unmarked space in between serves as a gap, an empty space between continuity. The lines are suspended and serve as connectors as well, mirroring in a simple yet profound way the arrangement of the installation. Ultimately, these are the themes of "In-Flux:" suspension and connection. The installation does not contain much physical matter; all is stripped down to essentials. But it does contain a lot of thought and offers the viewer a highly rewarding experience.

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Related: Slideshow: William Kentridge at MassArt, Slideshow: 'El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa' at the Davis Museum, Slideshow: Andy Goldsworthy and Ursula von Rydingsvard at the DeCordova, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , GRAPHITE, Art, installation,  More more >
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