Rebecca Roberts is a writer and founding member of the literary magazine, Two With Water.
For more on Rebecca and Two With Water :: http://www.twowithwater.com/Rx/
Kristen Althoff’s installation “End of Life” exists on a threshold. Literally, the piece hangs in a doorway, a threshold between physical spaces. The installation’s title, “End of Life,” also implies a threshold. What first comes to mind is the process of death - not the moment that one loses consciousness or a heart stops beating, but the period of hours or days when the body shuts down and slowly ceases to function. However, as Althoff explains, the title to her piece has another meaning than this. What “End of Life” refers to is when a consumer product has reached the end of its “usefulness” and is thrown away.
Constructed of discarded materials, “End of Life,” also manifests the threshold between usefulness and obsolescence. By reusing materials that were going to be thrown away, Althoff questions whether there exists a dichotomy between garbage and beauty, whether the classification lies in the observer’s perception, or whether the concepts are one and the same.
The way “End of Life” plays with light adds another threshold, that between light and dark. As the light shining on the piece shifts due to the sun’s position or someone turning on or off a lamp, it is as though the light and shadows cast by “End of Life” are in constant play with one another. A patch of space can be light one moment and dark the next, reminding us that life itself is in a constant state of flux and that each moment is singular and unique.
Ariel Radock is an art historian and fine artist who has studied in Boston, Italy, and
Egypt. She is currently living in Chicago, IL and continues to practice her art and criticism through her work with various galleries and publications.
Check out some of Ariel’s artists interviews here: http://www.fillintheblankgallery.com/interviews/
And see some of her artwork published in Knee Jerk Magazine: KNEE-JERK OFFLINE VOL.1
Experiencing Kristen Althoff’s installation for the first time is like witnessing an ephemeral breathing object that one may encounter whilst turning down a wrong corridor in an abandoned Victorian mansion. The name of Althoff’s work “End of Life” aptly connects the viewer to the perpetualness of cycles and the duality that lies within each occurrence. When we involve ourselves with themes such as life and death or darkness and light, we are reminded of the imperative bond between each of these twofold principles. This reminder is an inescapable conversation that needs to transpire within our society and ourselves.
The contrary idea of utilizing unsustainable refuse to generate naturally appearing objects is not so far fetched. Numerous contemporary artists and architects are striving to design bodies of work that incorporate salvaged materials. With so much waste our culture produces, Althoff cleverly takes advantage of this problem by fabricating an organic structure out of discarded plastic mesh. The result of her efforts are brilliantly executed with subtle prowess and a delicate touch.
After witnessing “End of Life”, the viewer’s experience does not end once exiting the ParlourRoom. The residual memory of the work carries on in our being, merging into our consciousness with reverence and delight. It is an elusive daydream both haunting and thought provoking.
A review of Kristen Althoff’s installation, End of Life
|| Kristen Orser ||
Kristen Orser is the author of Winter, Another Wall (blossombones); Folded Into Your Midwestern Thunderstorm (Greying Ghost Press); Wilted Things (Scantily Clad Press); Squint (Dancing Girl Press); and E AT I, illustrated by James Thomas Stevens (Wyrd Tree Press). She is certain about being uncertain and she might forget to return your phone calls.
When Kristen Althoff stitches together plastic mesh, plastic mesh discarded from commercially sold flowers, it starts to look like something else. It starts to be seen, to have a presence. Indeed, Althoff gives this plastic mesh visibility by engaging it in a new construction and new context, enabling the physical evidence of a routinely shed object to unfurl, unravel, and unwind its own narrative. The value of her piece, End of Life, rests in process: Althoff isolates the mesh, pulls the mesh out into a circle, flattens the mesh, and stitches it together. And the first step, the isolation, gives rise to the art experience: the ability and pleasure to witness light and shadow as its filtered through the newly restored object. There is an appropriation and beautification of the mass-produced mesh, but it is the thinking that sustains the art.
When she slows down the process, Althoff identifies the act of “taking the center” and “pulling it into a circle”. And it seems that the work acts: as a center pulled out, as a circle of dizzying potential, as a wild activity of working to adhere pieces together. She is doing a very human thing: she is working to create a kind of a whole.
In a working definition, Althoff is establishing a kind of whole that involves light, shadow, life, death, beginning, ending. And these interactions are not binary oppositions—are not as simple as problem/answer. Instead, there’s room for the overlap—the messiness of something at once being an ending and a beginning; or, more complicated to think about but perhaps more true, being neither a beginning nor an ending. Being simply a labor in pursuit of finding value, beauty, something.
The utility of the object—the plastic mesh which one served the purpose of keeping petals upright—is past, is not even part of the work anymore. Instead, the material has its own agency of trapping light, casting shadows, and playing with how we—as viewers—see the whole installation. There is a performance happening that’s akin to the spiritual dimensions of transubstantiation, but rooted in the brute resemblance to plastic, commodity, garbage.
Of course, the echo of Ezra Pound’s axiom “make it new.” More in line and more aware of the urgency—the imperative “make”. The making, the call to make, the necessity of process/touch/sight/ and the maker in the act of making are the first necessity, are the very thing needed to start the activity of any art. Althoff reminds us that there is a verb happening, there is activity, work, and doing. It isn’t enough to be new, but more important to be engaged in the activity and pursuit of making. As Joseph Beuys elaborates:
“Only on condition of a radical widening of definitions will it be possible for art and activities related to art [to] provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary- revolutionary power.”
And there is a real sense of liberation in widening definitions of what something can be, of tilting your head to the left and seeing something entirely new. There is the act of apprehension, perception, and holding. Althoff is doing something that borders violence or mysticism when she seizes a by-product of commodity culture and dematerializes it enough that it begins resembling webbing, curtains or lace. But it is none of those things.
Althoff takes time to point out that the mesh objects are not the same: the individual pieces that make up the whole cannot be exactly duplicated or replicated so that each flattened mesh piece is slightly different, is in direct protest to mass production which, ironically, is the process that conceived it in the first place. We see a failure in mass production or—perhaps—a hopefulness in its inability to perfectly duplicate.
Much more acutely, we see Althoff’s ability to see: she found the mesh, decided to pay attention. She decided to become aware and to awaken the awareness of viewers. In the end, our somatic experience with light and shadow are invigorated.
And the meaning of the art might rest in that, might rest in consciousness. This could be akin to Dali’s “delirium of interpretation;” Althoff is showing us the multiple ways to see something, the way a “thing” can open up by simply being seen. As Althoff suggests, she is creating room for thinking.
Sure, we could keep going in the work to align this with the materiality of contemporary commerce, and we’d be remiss to not think that there’s commentary about reproduction and mass culture, waste, and recycling. But the piece asks us more: we’re asked to reconsider the presentation and construction of craft-like mediums. We can dig deep and pull out questions about gender in the craft of sewing and the industry of mass production. We can dig deep and pull out questions about spirituality in the ethereal quality of the work and the way it insists on bringing up a question of “ending”. We can dig deep and pull out questions about beauty and how beauty is cultivated. And this ability to keep moving into the work is because the work is rooted in ideas of moving past utilitarian and limiting definitions; the work is rooted in an always present process of being made new again.
Such insistent re-birthing might be the most secular and gendered aspects of the piece. The very intention that it cannot be viewed (based on light and shadow) as static or still, could be its most political aspect.
Althoff herself can tell us what the piece is not, but she struggles to pin down what the piece actually is. She resists a definition, a closure, an ending. The work plays a perpetual game of resistance in the way it keeps working to collect new light, to cast new shadows, and to always be something it wasn’t before.
In the end, we’re simply asked to see something beautiful, something that’s beautiful only because Althoff saw the object and made the object beautiful for us; she made the object capable of activation within the space it inhabits. The conversation develops because Althoff bothered to take the time, bothered to put the work into discovering a small moment of invention, and bothered to make room for thought.