It was probably inevitable, this weird, unhinged moment in American culture (to use the term loosely), when a reality show celebrity and a presidential candidate who happens to be female face off in a televised gladiatorial contest. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” wrote William Blake, centuries before the emergence of mass media. In common language, something really, really vile has hit the fan. It’s a thought that is permeating daily conversation, and it has been taken up, however obliquely, by two artists in the current exhibition of Artscapes in downtown Tacoma, Lauren Boilini and Nola Avienne (Avienne’s work is the subject of the next Artscapes article).
“I look at the idea of excess, when images of excess become meaningless and fall into the realm of pattern. This idea of gluttony is reflected in our current culture. We are a hedonistic society, always looking for more until the more we are looking for loses its meaning,” writes Boilini. One Love Stand, her sweeping mural in the Woolworth Windows at S. 11th and Broadway, presents human excess as expressed in the blurred, wild, instinctive urges of toucans congregating in the midst of the metal girders of urban skyscrapers and bridges. Boilini convincingly positions the huge birds in discordant surroundings where they violently fence (or routinely groom?) each other with their large bills, in flurries of gesture as natural as if they were perched in tropical trees. Her painting is masterful; the mural appears as if it were completed in one frenetic, non-stop session.
Boilini’s work deals with large themes. In a 2014 installation, Sticky Fingers, humans mass together blindly; with eyes closed and ears covered, shorn of clothes, they cower from a presence that remains unseen. It is like a vision of hell, one that somehow succeeds in creating an impression of ear-shattering sound.
“I continuously seek and study epic narratives, creating my own for each work. I am fascinated with crowds of people converging in one space at one time,” notes the Seattle-based artist. “I investigate various events and practices that bring large numbers of life forms together to discover how beings interact when driven together in mass quantities. [These situations involve] religious practices, festivals, holidays, political gatherings, orgies, feeding frenzies, stampedes, riots, migrations, etc. Recently I have been drawn to images of battles and duels, where opposing forces fight for the same space. I am interested in what drives us to violence and destruction of life.”
Boilini’s work powerfully plumbs the realm of ambiguity. Animals and birds, such as the city-dwelling toucans in One Love Stand, can be read as creatures caught in a benign moment – or just as convincingly, in a death-struggle for dominance. Even the humans in Sticky Fingers, (which remind me exactly of the Pompeiian casts of fleeing humans caught by the volcano’s eruption), seem to flit back and forth from the embodiment of panic, to one of ecstasy. This complexity reflects the shifting of the human psyche as it seeks to interpret a continual deluge of information.
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction,” wrote Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Lauren Boilini’s art presents the urgency to choose one or the other, now. -By Lisa Kinoshita
- One Love Stand by Lauren Boilini, at the Woolworth Windows at S. 11th and Broadway through November 17, 2016. See more of Lauren’s work at www.laurenboilini.net.