Concrete, Leather, Light, Glass: Davina Semo at Lyles & King
Davina Semo: WHERE LIFE IS HAPPENING at Lyles & King
October 9 to November 15, 2015
106 Forsyth Street (between Grand and Broome streets)
New York, 646 484 5478
In her first solo exhibition at Lyles & King, entitled ”WHERE LIFE IS HAPPENING,” artist Davina Semo uses industrial materials, evoking facets of urban life that feel simultaneously in-progress and unchanging. Made from concrete, leather, light, and glass, the works are installed in a way that asks the viewer to make decisions about how to move through the space, move around the works, and how to interact with the lights, some of which are too bright to look at. A piece entitled THE NOISE IS PITCHED TO A LEVEL OF PAIN SHE ABSORBS AS A PERSONAL TEST (all works 2015) is broken at the edge, concrete scattered a bit. There is a visual loudness like that of walking through New York City — encountering idiosyncratic obstructions and construction sites, comfortable walking paths and strange objects to look at and walk by, which the floor of the gallery, also an industrial concrete, reinforces.
The most captivating pieces are the pegboard-like vault lights of reinforced concrete and cast glass, with the many-colored glass pieces fit into small hexagonal openings in concrete slabs. The light casts these shapes on the walls. It’s hard to tell which side is which. I’m not sure there is a “front” or a “back.” Rather, the viewer is asked to look at both the top and the bottom — accessing the surface of the city and what’s underneath. Semo expands on vault lights, which are set into pavement and traditionally used to let light into whatever’s below. By isolating these jeweled sidewalk interruptions, Semo opens the space of the gallery.
At the back wall is I AM A PATIENT GIRL; I WAIT I WAIT I WAIT, consisting of seven folding chairs held together with zip ties. Beneath five of the chairs lie what appear to be cast steel box cutters, blades exposed and pointing rightward.
The titles activate the work. The consistent use of the female pronoun narrates while also pointing to a parallel universe where the titles exist as a work in and of themselves. A row of three reinforced concrete-and-glass sculptures lie diagonally about a foot from the floor via cylindrical stands. They are severely slanted and facing a bright light. The effect that this light has on the eyes is that of a construction light at night. Merciless and austere, it casts circular shadows on the floor and illuminates the already glowy multicolored glass rivulets. These resemble amped up pegs in an amped up pegboard. These three sculptures are titled:
SHE FEELS HER SMILE FLOATING IN THE AIR ABOUT SIX INCHES FROM HER FACE
SHE TOUCHES HIM, TOUCHES HERSELF, POINTS TOWARD THE FLOOR
SHE DOES NOT SPEAK OR ACT IN A NERVOUS WAY, BUT THERE IS A VIBE OF INTENSE TENSION ABOUT HER
The title of the show, “WHERE LIFE IS HAPPENING,” is indicative of a feeling of moving through the overstimulation of the industrial zones where objects often exist in the space between useful and out-of-commission. Semo uses polarity to great effect, as the hardness of the pieces point to breakability. Similarly, Semo’s hand feels present and also not; the sculptures almost seem found. There are three wall pieces that slightly offset the concrete floor sculptures. I MAKE MYSELF STILL, TO LISTEN is a concrete-and-leather wall piece with a chain in the shape of an X hanging just below another X pressed into the surface. There are two other leather and concrete wall pieces: LOOK AT NO ONE, REVEAL NOTHING, REMAIN STILL and AFTER A WHILE THE SUN MOVES AND THE SUNLIGHT COMES RIGHT ON THE BED. These actively witness the rest of the show, their titles address stillness and listening while the other titles in the show are action points.
The only floor sculpture which lies entirely on the floor, THE NOISE IS PITCHED TO A LEVEL OF PAIN SHE ABSORBS AS A PERSONAL TEST (mentioned above), made from reinforced concrete, rock salt, and cast glass, points to a level of overstimulation to the point of breaking. One hears about the ways in which urban noises impact the nervous system. This sculpture feels the most overtly human — with an inscription on the top: 2015 and on the bottom: SEMO. Like the other concrete sculptures, this is reminiscent of a pegboard — but more deflated and tired — a board at rest and broken at the upper right corner. “WHERE LIFE IS HAPPENING” is exciting because the viewer is in the midst of it — of Semo’s industrious world between useful and out-of-commission.