At some point not long ago, early into 2015, Laurie Trok made a paper ball. Thus began a whole sequence of works, which gradually coalesced into the exhibition Interval, now at the Mine Factory gallery. The exhibition is a strong example of how an idea, pursued intuitively over a period of time, can carry an artist into new, unforeseen directions.
There are no paper balls in the gallery. They survived only as Polaroids. After photographing them, Trok unfolded the paper, cut the creased sheets with patterns, and numbered them in chronological order. She also preserved the cut out shapes to use as source material for subsequent work. One of these is on the adjacent wall: Trok scanned the paper cut-outs, then laser-cut them into sheets of wood. They are mounted on the wall in a long row, like a frieze of flattened, bleached bones. They look terrific. The shapes are weird and crisply outlined by burned edges, and “read” somewhat like a like a cryptic script – maybe Kufic poetry or runes.
Other artworks in the show were also generated using a similar procedure, yet curiously, look nothing like the piece I just described. Instead they flaunt exciting colors, including neon, and are placed around the gallery in ways that challenge, rather than invite, the habitual gallery gaze. Several canvases are cut into angular shapes and propped up on a small dias, or placed face down on the floor. Opposite, a large rectangular canvas in two layers is reduced to its edges. Its central cloth has been cut away to reveal the wall behind it.
These pieces are fun to look at; their slick lacquer, neon accents, patterns, and organic shapes give off a cool 80s vibe. In the context of a long history that includes Jean Arp, Ellsworth Kelly, Ian Wallace, and spandex, these canvases aren’t trying to do too much, which probably contributes to their sense of whimsy and pop. More interesting (but less suitable for that space above your mid-century modern couch) are the fin-shaped pieces in wood, mounted on the corners and top edges of the Mine Factory’s movable walls. These objects are interesting because, like a fish’s fin, they have two “faces” and appear different depending on your angle of approach.
One particularly effective use of this technique (pictured below) is visible on entering the gallery. From the entrance, you see six vertical neon-green stripes. They appear to be painted directly on the wall. But move closer, and they gradually acquire depth. At close range, it’s clear the stripes are objects, but it’s not until you swing to the side that their full character is revealed. One side is painted with horizontal bands of color; the other is – well, worth discovering for yourself.
This piece has what I always relish in art: genuine surprise. And it doesn’t wear off: even after repeated views, the shift from side to side (color to color) never fails to charm.
This is art in which something happens. But its slam-dunk success makes the inclusion of the earlier Paper Ball Project that much more perplexing. On opening night the paper ball photos along with the paper sheets were displayed three at a time and rotated by a “human slideshow” (a performer and friend of Trok’s), who took the papers from a flat file drawer in sequence. But why? In person, and subsequently in an artist statement, Trok suggested this was about temporality, meditation, and emotions associated with paper balls. In her words,
A paper ball is thrown away, discarded; it evokes frustration, shame, and embarrassment. This projects seeks to create templates from these emotional reactions to an idea. … The repetition of this process one after another also marks time as the project grows.
Whatever that means, or is intended to mean, it’s clear that Trok needs it. But does the exhibition itself need it?
I would argue, it does not. In the context of the exhibition The Paper Ball Project felt like the vestiges of earlier ideas which, while generative, were transcended. The paper balls fueled the fire, which powered the engine of creative discovery that led to the sculptural wall pieces. They were the earlier drafts, which may help explain the origins of the current work, but are not congenitally also a part of it. Of course amputating the paper ball material would require Trok to return the paper ball to its origins, as what is “thrown away, discarded.” But doing so should not evoke any frustration, shame or embarrassment. For now, it would let the newer work come into focus, and anyway, paper need not be thrown away absolutely. It can always be recycled.
Laurie Trok: Interval on now through October 28. Artist talk and performance Tuesday October 27, 7-9 pm (performance 7-8 pm).