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This article was published 15/10/2014 (1041 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kristin Nelson's Make -- Soft opened at Raw Gallery of Architecture and Design last month, and I have to say, I love what she's done with the place.
Visitors familiar with the Raw's distinctive, darkish ambience will note the transformation starting at the door. Green artificial turf carpets the stairs leading down to what's normally a dimly lit, black-box basement space. The charcoal-coloured walls have been repainted brilliant white, and the usual sparse spotlights are bolstered by fluorescent tubes that evenly illuminate each darkened corner.
It might seem strange to dwell on Nelson's lighting and paint choices, but these were carefully considered. Make -- Soft is in many ways about bringing things to light, about getting a better look at our surroundings, making them more accessible and more livable. Instantly inviting and often funny, it's about "lightening up" in every sense.
As the title suggests, the show spotlights "softness" and transformation. In the past Nelson has worked in wide-ranging media, touching on topics from Pamela Anderson to parking lots. Her recent practice has focused on the inventive use of textiles and on issues surrounding labour and value, all of which feature in the installation at Raw.
The first piece you encounter hangs high on the wall back in the Astroturfed stairwell, a white café curtain bearing a photo of a beat-up radiator. It's a delightfully futile attempt at camouflage: peek between the digitally-printed panels, and you'll find the selfsame radiator tucked into a shallow niche. In the gallery, wide strips of fibreglass insulation cut to various lengths are faced with photos of notched and weathered wooden planks, also printed digitally on fabric. Eventually, you recognize the puffy, buckling boards as larger-than-life-size replicas of the stairwell panelling.
Oversized plush replicas of books and magazines line a sloping white wall that's half merchandise rack, half playground slide. Resembling seat cushions or throw pillows, the sculptures faithfully reproduce publications for sale in Raw's own bookstore (journals and monographs with titles like Architecture and Violence), right down to the price tags. A staggered carpet of living sod laps at the wall where it meets the floor.
A video projection of Nelson's bedroom window, curtain fluttering in the sun, brings welcome "daylight" to another section of the gallery, while on a dirt-lined plinth, a halting line of sprouting grass seeds strain toward the arc of a frantically-swinging, motorized lamp.
Nelson playfully draws our attention to overlooked features of the gallery, but it's a critical kind of play. The recurring spotlight on the stairwell is a reminder that many galleries (Raw included) can be inaccessible to viewers with limited mobility. The struggling greenery wryly implies that galleries might not be good at supporting life in general. (Indeed, Make - Soft seemed to be nearing the end of its life cycle. When I visited last weekend, the sod was sad and soggy, and the baby-swing motor powering the grow-light had stalled.) Nelson "domesticates" the gallery: critical texts become objects of home decor, and while everything appears soft to the touch, the gallery setting (and the exposed fibreglass) caution us against trying.
Make -- Soft closes Friday, Oct. 17, but if you don't get a chance to see it, Nelson will be featured in a second, forthcoming solo exhibition at Actual Gallery. Showcasing Nelson's clever, conceptual and exquisitely constructed loom-woven textile pieces, Make Work is set to open Nov. 13.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.