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Six Feet Over, the title of Laura Lima’s exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, is an inversion of the idiomatic expression, “six feet under,” drawing the viewer’s attention to the living qualities of Lima’s fibrous material and positioning her sculptures as active forms with a “life” of their own. Across three distinct bodies of work, Lima’s highly intentional use of expressive material makes her sculptures feel alive, as fibers, straw, and dry ice come together to form concise yet complex containers for real and imagined activity. With varying degrees of subtlety, each of the three bodies of work invokes a participatory element that meets the materials halfway—Lima invites others to help her activate these materials, transforming their forms into records of past, present, and future collaborations.
Lima’s Levianes sculptures (all 2021), a set of delicate sewn forms that hover via translucent threads in two of the three exhibition rooms, most gracefully capture the notion of sculpture as a living form in the present. Throughout the light-filled main gallery—and in a darker back space to moody and dramatic effect—feather-light arrangements made from diaphanous tulle and accentuated by vibrant pastel hues hang suspended in mid-air, recalling garments fit for high concept haute couture. While the body itself remains absent, each Levianes piece is indeed a container of sorts: every hour, gallery attendants carefully replenish unexpectedly placed, nearly invisible pockets in the fabric with small pieces of dry ice.
For Lima, whose oeuvre descends from the experimental social practices introduced by Brazil’s 1960s Tropicália movement (which included Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, and Lygia Clark), this physical task of chopping and placing the bits of dry ice constitutes a subtle collaborative act. Visitors can count on the attendants’ noisy cutting of the dry ice to punctuate the otherwise peaceful exhibition space from time to time. While the faint vapor from the dry ice, slowly seeping through the thin skin of the meshy sculptures is easy to miss, its effect is one of surprising power. This almost imperceptible intervention anchors the sculptures in time, like melting icebergs in fast-forward.
Dispersed amidst the Levianes in the main space, and hanging in the gallery’s reading room, are the Communal Nest sculptures (all 2021), weavings composed of wood and deconstructed straw hats that have been stitched together and warped to create a web of undulating shapes. Sprawling and abstract, these wheat-colored forms are indeed nest-like in their organized three-dimensional chaos. They are suspended or mounted to walls, like out of reach perches lining a whimsical, aviary-scale cityscape. They await imagined future dwellers—Lima describes the Communal Nests as uninhabited ecosystems for a flurry of imaginary birds. These nests are made for walking under and around, to be taken in from multiple vantage points, as if painstakingly constructed by a flock of collaborative beaks, held together by teamwork or magic.
Finally, the front gallery showcases four works constructed during a 2019 iteration of Lima’s Tailor Shop installation in New York City (another iteration was recently on view as part of the ICA and Hammer Museum’s joint Witch Hunt exhibition). Clothing-like, fabric patchworks stretched around rectangular wooden frames, the works in this series were born of a collaborative process in which Lima hired professional tailors to “translate” her drawings of friends, family, and historical figures. The Tailor Shop sculptures are activated by their collaborative past—materiality and process mutually entangled.
Each with its own conceptual center of gravity, the three bodies of work on view also engage in a kind of collaboration, cohabiting the space in an organic and unfussy fashion, like animals in a shared ecosystem. Whether products of past collective processes, perches awaiting future occupants, or spectral forms gently leaking into an ongoing present, they come together in a coquettish celebration of the transportive power of their materials.
Laura Lima: Six Feet Over runs from November 6, 2021–January 29, 2022 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (1010 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038).