Laurie Walker

Galerie Christiane Chassay

Laurie Walker’s Altus, 1992, was filled with sensory ambiguities. Upon climbing in virtual darkness one of four ladders welded to Walker’s minimalist tower of steel, one found oneself peering at a vat of bioluminescent bacteria. The immediate sensation was of looking up instead of down, of intractable distance. The contrast between the patterns of living light and the austere, structural shell of the piece reaffirmed Thomas Carlyle’s notion that, “unconsciousness is the sign of creation; consciousness at best that of manufacture.” Not simply a feminist assault on Minimalism, Altus foregrounded the space between touch and the less tangible forms of sensory experience.

For one of her first shows in Montreal, she brought together—with riotous alacrity and absurd humor—current discourse about art’s unstable relation to science. Producing Monsters, 1986, a giant papier-mâché moon skewered like a spit on a barbecue, could have come from the set of a Federico Fellini film. After spinning the piece using a primitive-looking, oversized handle, one could watch it revolve, with awkward regularity, from a small-scale telescope nearby. High up on a wall, a photo of superimposed images of the moon and the mask of a man’s face brought to mind pre-Cartesian astronomy and the witch craze of the 17th century.

Included in Walker’s recent show, Carpet, 1992, consisted of a rectangular patch of cast peat moss from which fringelike strands of illuminated optical fiber projected at both ends. Hovering just above the gallery floor as if about to take off, Walker’s piece, in its generic formality and placid geometry, left little room for interpretation. The interstices between optical fiber and literally “grounded” matter, were both edifying and unsettling. Carpet suggested a new set of mythological or fictional cosmologies. The question Walker’s work left unanswered was whether these new metaphors for the relationship between technology and the natural have as much to do with origins as with evolution: whether given meanings are endlessly reinterpreted in novel ways as technology evolves or whether what emerges is a hybrid of these meanings. Scroll, 1992, paraphrased the way nature unconsciously reproduces itself by consciously replicating its own flotsam: foliage and fragments were etched in reverse onto a cylinder of industrial steel.

Walker’s latest show suggests that while our collective unconscious is always triggered by reality in one way or another, the sensory discontinuities that constitute the world around us remain unresolved, as much guided and defined by technology’s innovations as our mythologies are shaped by popular culture.

John K. Grande