I’ll admit up front that I was already a fan of Julia Gartrell’s work before I went to see her current show at the Scrap Exchange’s Green Gallery. I first encountered her at the Made in the USA show in 2009 with a piece titled You Too Are Involved. The piece was intricate and participatory; and ultimately doomed to break apart because of that. Getting to watch the object of so many hours of planning and labor collapse into a tangled dirty mess made the experience all the more memorable.
So it was with interest that I watched Gartrell’s “Mundane Machines” doing their pointless work at the Scrap Exchange. The destruction was of a much slower type in the pieces on display than You Too Are Involved, but perhaps more hypnotizing because of it. Two “machines” in particular interested me. The first looks like a spinning wheel, with a large, self propelled wheel on one end that slowly pulls string from a spool on the other end. In the middle, the string runs underneath a tall, skinny chunk of wax. The point at which the string slides along the wax is lit with a bulb, helping it to slowly slice upward through the heated, softened wax. When I was there the string had advanced only an inch or so upwards, of course making me wonder how long it would take to complete it’s task, and whether the spool or the wax would run out first. The second machine brought in the participatory aspect by presenting a trio of suspended wooden tennis racquets that could be used by pulling on a rope, making them swat like a fly swatter. Each racquet is paired with a balled up piece of cloth coated in colored chalk, which can be batted into a piece of paper on the wall. It’s sounds complicated to write it out, but it’s really very simple; yank a cord, swing a racquet and a puff of dust floats off the wall. The maddening thing about it is that the dust doesn’t particularly like to cling to the paper. If you succeed in making an interesting mark, the next swat is just as likely to erase it. As an art making device, it is particularly futile, which I suspect is the intention.
As for the “Modified Multiples” in the show’s title, the most dramatic is a suspended arrangement of eyeglasses that are each zip-tied to another one in a floating row of thin wire frames and glass lenses. The effect is of a giant floating millipede with the spiky ends of the zip-ties poking out sideways and acting as legs, while the body is made of mostly empty space and glass.
The larger connections of the show to the Scrap Exchange itself is also an enjoyable element. For any creative individual, it is hard to see the things that Gartrell makes out of mundane objects and not end up searching for similar objects in the warehouse outside. I myself left with fifty small glass bottles and some glass tile samples, as well as some vague ideas on their use.
“Modified Multiples//Mundane Machines” will run from August 17 through September 15. The Green Gallery is open during regular store hours (MTW 11–5, Th & Fri 11–9, Sat 10–5, Sun 12–5),