A group of strangers gravitate toward one another, gathering around a black structure that hangs on the wall. The chalkboard-like surface is filled with dozens of half circles of various sizes, composed at differing angles. Black wires chaotically cascade to the floor and connect to white power strips. Whereas the mechanics could easily be concealed, they are deliberately shown in connection to the black clock hands with small white squares that twitch when approached.
“Can you see it?” a man in a black coat asks a young woman with cropped blonde hair.
She has been looking at the sculpture inquisitively for the past few minutes and responds, “No, but it moves when we move. You stand back and I’ll move. Tell me when you see it.”
“Wonder,” featured in Alicia Eggert’s solo exhibition, Everything You Are Looking For, at Artisphere in Rosslyn, VA, is emblematic of the curiosity evoked within each of the artist’s works, and a paradigm of the power to create community through the confounding principles of time, science and religion, all of which are invisible to the naked eye.
In “Wonder,” sensors move when the viewer approaches, causing the white tips to form the word “Wonder.” However, like a pointillist painting, when the viewer is close enough to make the sculpture move, he is too close to read the words, forcing a collaboration to take place between viewers-turned-participants in order to read, and thus complete the work.
“The undercurrent of spirituality or religion is something I think about a lot,” explained Eggert who describes wonder as an encounter that is awe-inspiring and unexplainable.
The artist and 2013 TED Fellow was raised in South Africa where her parents were Episcopalian missionaries. Though the 32-year old artist does not remember speaking Afrikaans, her parents tell stories of a young Eggert switching between English and Afrikaans with ease. Anecdotes like these fascinate Eggert and inspire her to attempt to make sense of language by converting intangible words into physical constructions.
“I still very much work more like a designer than an artist,” explained Eggert who graduated with an interior design degree from Drexel University in 2004. “For a lot of artists, their practice is very processed based. They work with a material and don’t really know what the outcome will be [..] But as a designer, I was trained to come up with a concept and think very intentional decisions along the way to produce a very specific result.”
Eggert’s design-informed artworks are clean and modern, and their simple and accessible styles makes their subject matters increasingly intriguing.
“Eternity,” one of Egget's first collaborations with photographer Mike Flemming, is composed of the hour and minute hands of thirty electric clocks on a white plexiglass surface. The hands revolve to spell the word “ETERNITY” every twelve hours. Artisphere visitors can see the transformation at 7 PM each day. Standing in front of “Eternity” as the letters slowly disappear, one cannot help but to question the truth of the term.
In contrast to the gradual transfiguration of “Eternity,” “AHA” directly confronts the viewer with the sense of wonder, humor and joy that Eggert seeks to elicit from her audience. Life-size black letters are reflected in a mirror to spell the word “AHA.” Like “Wonder,” the viewer is required to finish the artwork by reading the word, while also seeing oneself reflected in that particular moment in time. What does it mean to be here, in this moment of ‘aha,’ of now?
“It’s funny because the present is so intangible. Like moments sort of go by and if you are not the sentimental type, it’s easy to forget so many things that have happened, so many special moments,” said Eggert who says her goal is to live in the present as much as possible.
While on the surface Eggert’s kinetic works focus on the confounding notion of time, they are teeming with layers of meaning.
In revealing the mechanical inner workings of the moving sculptures, the mystery of science pushes to be understood. However, the largely disordered wires suggest a complicated process that is nearly impossible to untangle.
The use of neon, particularly in “You Are (On) An Island,” a public artwork that had previously traveled to Australia, Brooklyn, Maine, and the UK before coming to D.C., evokes questions about marketing and makes a connection between synthetic materials and false advertising. Themes of promotion pulse through several works, including the billboard sized "YAY," which comes to life when box fans animate glittering streamers. When the fans turn off, the viewer becomes aware of the absence of noise and movement, and the once jubilant structure suddenly feels empty.
“The Way,” hangs at the back of the exhibition space. The photograph shows an idyllic field of yellow dandelions, manipulated to reveal the shape of an upward arrow in a flattened circle of green grass. Eggert tells the story of her and Flemming spending an afternoon this past summer pulling each flower by hand and placing them in the shape of the arrow. She says this is only the first of future iterations.
The photograph is installed in a light box originally manufactured for beer advertisements, and is hung slightly away from the wall so the picture is encircled by a halo-like glow. The religious undertones of ‘The Way’ are uncanny and with the deliberate use of materials, Eggert presents clear commentary on selling religion as a similar process to selling beer in convenience store windows.
Perhaps most emblematic of the many questions Eggert tackles in Everything You Are Looking For, “Present Perfect,” is composed of a large meteor-like rock sitting on a MacBook opened to Microsoft Word, typing “YYYYYYY” for eternity.
“I think it’s funny that a computer would question its own existence or why this is happening,” said Eggert, “Why, why. It’s a question everyone asks.”
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Everything You Are Looking For is on display at Artisphere until February 2, 2014 in the Terrace Gallery.
**Photographs courtesy of Alicia Eggert