A Tale of the Tape at CAM Raleigh

Every work of art is to one extent or another a record of the process that created it.  For most of western art history, this has largely been a record that is highly edited by the artist before the work reached the public.  Sketches, underpaintings, studies, wrong turns and experiments are left behind when the exhibit is put on.  But in 1974 Joseph Beuys exhibited his historic performance, I Like America, and America Likes Me, where he locked himself into a gallery for three days with a shepherd’s crook, a blanket of felt, and a live coyote.  From that point on a method of art making that had long been missing came back to a place of prominence; the artist as shaman. 

This is the theory behind letting an artist loose inside of a gallery to work out the creation of an exhibition over a period of time, all in view of the eyes and cameras (and now tweets) of gallery visitors.  CAM Raleigh is currently exhibiting the result of just such an event in the work of Rebecca Ward, a Brooklyn based artist who works with a non-traditional material with a long connection to a variety of art practices; tape.

Long gone are the days of only brown masking tape, black electrical tape and silver duct tape.  Tape comes in every color imaginable, a wide variety of sizes, textures and thicknesses.  Like any good artist, this increased range of available options begs for a creative response, and Ward has brought a meticulous sense of design and extreme organization to bear on the material.

The space is dominated by a series of alternating red and yellow tape stretched between three of the pillars in the gallery, creating a suspended triangle.  Another leg of this shape provides one of the few uncontrolled aspects of the exhibit as the red and yellow tape has ripped or been torn and the ends lie twisted on the floor.  It is a nice relief from the straight lines that dominate the installation and allows the room to feel more accessible.

One of the most subtle pieces in the gallery is also one of the most successful.  Strips of plain masking tape are attached to the ceiling at either end, allowing the strips to hang in slightly twisty parabolas.  It has the sense of a beautiful spider web and the feeling that even just a slight disturbance in the air would cause the strands to cling together, eventually leading to a sticky, jumbled mess that we are all familiar with.

Another piece with this sort of tension includes a found object; a statuette of a horse with a broken head, and hangs from an inverted cone of tape strips that suspend it from the ceiling.  A lit bulb protrudes from the missing head as the horse hangs upside down.  The inevitable weight of the horse and bulb would seem to foretell its destruction as the strands of tape inevitably slip free of their hold.

Another found object sculpture that includes florescent tube lights feels a bit disconnected from the other works, and the paintings on the wall seem to hint at some of the paths not taken, or perhaps an alternative working method used to refocus the rest of the work.  A stack of rolls of tape gives a little glimpse behind the curtain and reminds us what a simple material has been used to create such a complex display.

It’s hard not to wonder what a little more editing might have done for the installation, but as mentioned, editing is not the goal of this type of exhibition.  The most dominant aspect of the work, besides the bold colors and complex arrangements, is the glimpse we get into the character and working methods of the artist.  If this is the world that Ward lives in, I certainly don’t mind visiting, and neither should you.

Rebecca Ward: Thickly Sliced is on view now at CAM Raleigh through October 31st.  More information about the exhibit can be found here.


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