Ry Rocklen

Ry Rocklen discusses his exhibition at the Visual Arts Center

Ry Rocklen, ZZZ’s, 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

The Los Angeles–based artist Ry Rocklen was the first artist-in-residence at the recently opened Visual Arts Center, a project and exhibition space managed by the University of Texas at Austin. For his installation ZZZ’s, Rocklen used everyday objects such as a bed frame, a fan, folded sheets, and wind chimes to suggest a space of veneration and domesticity. The exhibition is on view until December 18.

THE INSTALLATION is very much about material presence. I knew I wanted to work with items that help you get your zzz’s; there are so many of them in the world. For instance, an old mattress found on the side of a road. I am interested in the objects’ formal familiarity, and how you could imagine what they would feel like if you were to touch or lie down on them.

In the past I played with the idea of sleep by tiling or studding a variety of mattresses. For this show, I originally thought to tile the inside of a canopy bed frame so it would be this giant mirrored cube enclosed by the canopy bed material. That was the nexus for the show. The other works would be satellites to that piece, and the bed would act as the black hole in the center of the exhibitions’ universe. It seemed logical that the satellites would explore notions of sleep in that they would be relating back to the tiled canopy bed frame.

When I was going to tackle the tiling, however, I quickly realized it was going to be a nightmare. It was going to take so long to make and I wasn’t sure how much of an impact it was actually going to have. It didn’t seem very economical. So I decided to use the same weaving approach as in my previous “cage” works like Extruded Cage (1-2) on the canopy bed frame, only on a much larger scale and using PVC pipes to create a grid. I really liked this idea of turning it into a giant puzzle, where it would be these three materials colliding—the materials being the canopy bed frame, the mattress, and the pipes.

The Visual Arts Center is nearly 1,500 square feet, so I wanted to go big. I considered larger pieces that would lend themselves to being created by a team of students. The carpet tile floor seemed like a logical project for the students to work on. Once I had two days of ten or so volunteers coming in, in their dirty clothes, ready to spread carpet glue on these panels, I knew this installation was totally worth it, despite my previous worries. I liked how the simplicity and scale of the carpet tiles provided an opportunity for students and volunteers to have a hand in creating the show.

Some of the works in the installation are more directly associated with notions of sleep, whereas others relate to more abstract ideas. For instance, with the fan, it is hard to go to sleep when you’re hot. So it’s more of a sleep aid. The wind chimes hanging from the ceiling are also related to the state of sleep. If you were to describe the sound of the wind chime with flowery adjectives, some may say, “tranquil, serene, meditative, or calming.” The wind chimes act as the embodiment of sleep through sound. It is an everyday object in that it brings an element of sleep to your waking life.