Los Angeles

Megan Williams

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

The diverse materials and formats evidenced in Megan Williams’ show “Drawn From Memory,” ranging from a 15-foot neoprene rubber doll to a series of small drawings on paper, is less a gratuitous demonstration of versatility than a necessary analogue to the multiple levels of visual language that constitute her reality. Whatever the brain picks up on, including the shuffled data of dreams, is fair game here, and the type of artmaking that results runs counter to more logical, system-oriented conceptual projects. Williams’ work tells complicated, open-ended stories about the condition of being alive.

Each work constitutes a detailed vignette within a narrative as overwhelming and intangible as consciousness itself. Though Williams’ work is born of a free-fall through a blurry zone that reeks of the archetypal—the enormous, inflexible, and true—these pieces are not the breathy overwrought utterances of a romantic. The show as a whole reads more like the literary experiments of the French Nouveau Roman, which stripped away all the handy signposts of conventional narrative, such as plot and character development, and replaced them with a grittier language, that at first appears obscure but in the end better approximates the truth of experience.

The images of the show follow the twisted progress of a single, amorphous, composite narrator of mixed gender, whose character includes perhaps some of Williams herself. But this figure, who cheerfully slips in and out of a netherworld, is never completely fleshed out. Seven Doors (Plus Three), 1990, is a series of white free-standing doors that are hinged together in order of descending size. These doors comically, even eerily, suggest the process of thinking itself; they capture the perplexity of ideas folding in on themselves and ricocheting into oblivion.

The entire installation is loosely arranged in a spiral pattern, beginning with a frantic print of an assortment of white-gloved hands grabbing for something too small to be seen, entitled Hands Pointing, 1990, and ending with Totem, 1990, a huge undigested Rorschach blot with its two sides connected by a web of black string, which resembles the spine of a dinosaur. Along the way, Williams contrives remarkable poetic pranks; for example, a Webster’s unabridged dictionary in a Plexiglas box stands on end with an irregular spiral hole drilled deep into the world of words. The dictionary is a cross between a cookie jar and a frightful vortex into which one might vanish forever.

Ascension, the celestial, and references to heaven and hell, flicker through all this work. Several drawings are accompanied by the sinister cheerfulness of swirling flocks of birds or dutiful angels. In Books with Lectern, 1990, a wooden lectern stands like a lonely pillar of knowledge; behind it several dozen old hardbound books, all a brownish-red, are suspended on nylon strings. The front and back covers of the books suggest wings for this inaccessible constellation of classics from Dante to Rousseau. Mounted 15 feet in the air, as if in flight, is Untitled/Children Cut-outs, 1990, three Plexiglas mirrored cutouts of a boy chasing a puppy who, in turn, is chasing a girl. The surface of the mirrored bodies of the figures reflects the rafters of the museum’s unfinished interior, alluding to places children might play and their pre-formed psychic condition. By following her instincts, Williams discovers useful and illogical truths about herself and the world she inhabits.

Benjamin Weissman