by Dilpreet BhullarOct 02, 2022
To carve, to excavate, to unearth are a selected few subtle acts to meet what has been anticipated – a sense of unity and an uninterrupted flow of being and time. When the scientific minds revisit the making of the universe, the geometrical calculations, step by step, unravel the line of relationship between what was and current state. Rooted in a similar thought of connection, laid amongst the variety of objects despite their different shapes, forms and appearances, is the art practice of the US-based sculptor and installation artist, Keith Lemley. He creates immersive environments within the architectural space of the art gallery by drawing a combination between geometric objects of modern designs and lights.
In an interview with STIR, Lemley explains how the installations and art sculptures are an attempt to reorient the viewers’ perception around their immediate environment, “Sometimes the immersive experience transforms the way the space looks or feels, for example in Super Blue and Arboreal. In Stellar Collisions, which is an exhibition of discrete objects, I arranged the sculptures to create a conversation between materials and gestures and to guide the viewer through a pathway in the gallery space. Symmetry Breaking is a large-scale work that becomes architectural in its scale and its use of planar forms and light. Each installation or series of sculptures becomes a unique challenge of uniting materials, form, light, and architecture.”
With an inquisitiveness of a scientist, the contemporary artist with his large-scale installation art not just reconfigures the thread of relatability, but also gauges the challenges of uniting the materials, light, and architecture which at first glance seem severely distinct from each other. Lemley has been interested in the works of the artists such as Judy Pfaff, Dough Wheeler, James Turrell, and Olafur Eliasson who have successfully led sensory experiences through a combination of light, objects, and architecture.
Talking about the importance of immersive experience around the large scale art installations, he says, “As an artist, I am interested in creating immersive environments of sculpture and light. Viewing any artwork can be an immersive experience, from a small painting to a large-scale installation, and the relationship between the artwork and the viewer determines the nature of that experience. What motivates me as an artist are haptic and phenomenological encounters between viewers and objects in a given space.”
For the visual artist, the exhibition or installation begins with an idea to use certain material or group of materials, an interest in activating a space or gallery, and curiosity in abstract visualisation of complex scientific systems or theories. Although Lemley has regularly used natural elements such as wood and marble, his initial works were made chiefly with wood – the visible drained veins and fissures lend a unique texture to it. Lemley has a studio in rural West Virginia, where he gets most of the wood for the works from trees that have fallen or are dead or dying. The studio for Lemley is a space where he conscientiously works with hands — “a hands-on approach similar to that of a scientist in a laboratory” as the curators Heather Bhandari and Courtney Colman mention in their curatorial essay for the exhibition, More is Different.
Lemley illustrates on the making of More is Different with a large, old, white oak tree that fell and was hallow in the middle, “After carving the tree into geometric shapes, cracks developed through the drying process. I thought of these as metaphorically similar to the cosmic strings and hairline fractures formed in the fabric of the universe due to rapid cooling in the immediate aftermath of when the universe came into being. I charred the wood and applied holographic foil to the surface to further emphasise the cracks. Neon tubes are arranged with the objects in the gallery to create the feeling of a total universe or forest.”
It was at the time of the exhibition Deep Time at LMAK gallery in 2018 that Lemley introduced white marbles to his practice. Like wood, the marble too is made after a considerable passage of time - a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallised calcium carbonate. The marble with its characteristic white lustre carries substantial weight. If the neon lights, of the works displayed at Deep Time, had an ethereal appearance then the marble represented earthiness.
Through the large-scale installations and sculptural art, Lemley strives to experiment with an array of the possibilities available for creative inventions with a desire that the works stimulate discourse among the viewers to see the world and everyday material under the lens of novelty. Moreover, the works could be seen as a way to restore the bond determined by interdependence found expansively, but waiting to be identified and recognised.