Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Material Synthesis: The collaborative art of Crystal Gregory and Alexa Williams

Crystal Gregory and Alexa Williams: Crossover at Black and White Gallery

July 14 to 30, 2017
56 Bogart Street, between Grattan Street and Harrison Place

Installation view of the exhibition under review. Image courtesy of the gallery.
Installation view of the exhibition under review. Image courtesy of the gallery.

“Synthesis” is a word with many context-dependent meanings: One can synthesize a chemical compound, wear a sweater made from synthetic fibers, or listen to electronic music generated by a synthesizer. Generally, though, the term implies the merger of two different things, as in the Hegelian dialectic, in which two opposing ideas — the thesis and antithesis — are resolved in their synthesis. Crossover, an exhibition of collaboratively-created work by Crystal Gregory and Alexa Williams, is synthetic in more ways than one. The work uses a variety of artificial materials whose properties clash with each other, only finding a tenuous resolution in the configurations on view in the gallery. On a deeper level, the show is a synthesis of the the two artists themselves, a duo with a working process that has become so collaborative that the question of “who made what?” is unanswerably meaningless.

Braids of metal wire — Crossover (2017) — span the gallery, blocking access to the center of the space. This divides the gallery in two, with each part made accessible by ducking under the cables at their highest points on either wall. They are slack and partially unwound, making apparent their new roles as art objects. Rather than holding up a suspension bridge, these cables hold the show together, linking the sides of the space and determining the visitor’s course through the exhibition.

Crystal Gregory and Alexa Williams, Both, 2017, concrete, paint, and cotton rope, 4 x 4 x 4 feet. Image courtesy of the gallery.
Crystal Gregory and Alexa Williams, Both, 2017, concrete, paint, and cotton rope, 4 x 4 x 4 feet. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Large concrete sculptures sit on either side of the cables. At the far end of the gallery is Both (2017), a duo of painted concrete rings tied together with a length of delicate red string. While the materiality of the rings is overwhelming — they could have been salvaged from an abandoned storm sewer — the thin string is the piece’s point of tension. Each ring leans away from the other, held together by this little wisp of lovingly tied thread that keeps them from both tumbling down. The other concrete piece is Curving (2017), a ring broken in two and dusted with fluorescent orange construction chalk. The halves of the ring rest on top of each other, tied together with another length of string that prevents it from becoming whole again. Both of these sculptures have a dual construction, whether it involves two rings or a single one broken in half. The two parts are awkwardly forced to become one, but this tenuous union could catastrophically collapse with the slightest provocation.

The installation piece Glory (2017) continues the theme of material juxtaposition, consisting of ceramic tubes of varying length placed atop a bed of construction chalk and leaned against the wall. The soft and fluffy chalk threatens to spread around the gallery space, liable to be tracked all over by careless visitors who wander too close. The ceramic tubes, for their part, look prone to double-over and snap in half. Their present precarious placement tells the story of their past malleability from before they were solidified in the controlled inferno of the kiln. These same fires activated the shiny black glaze on the exteriors of the tubes, giving them an illusory coating of gunmetal. This disguise, though, is interrupted by hints of their ceramic reality found in places where the glaze dripped or didn’t stick. Glory places the solid and the soft in a tense equilibrium, a balance that could be shattered by a sudden sneeze or a stray gust of air.

No amount of analysis of this show can answer the seemingly simple question of “who made what?” While the work was made collaboratively, neither artist has her metaphorical fingerprints on any given part of it. Each is an accomplished artist in her own right, and the work they made for this show isn’t characteristic of either artist’s larger body of work. Crossover, rather, represents a synthesis of their abilities, personalities, and individual artistic practices; a surprise reaction that has produced an unexpected yet welcome result.