“This is my homemade pendulum,” Field Kallop says. “Two bottles pieced together with some epoxy and duct tape.” She measures out lengths, snips, then wraps tape around the middle of the plastic bottles like wide black belts. With a funnel she fills one with finely crushed glass—diamond dust—then attaches it to one of ten long strings dangling from the ceiling. She pulls her pendulum back and lets go. The hard glitter runs from the tip, tracing a sparkling line on the floor. Field catches the bottle, then releases it again, this time with a curved motion instead of straight. The glass inscribes patterns, overlapping ellipses, like the paths of planets moving through the sky. The curves shift slowly, accruing into kite shapes, distended trapezoids. Repeating sweeps of dazzle.
Field stops the pendulum again, detaches it.
She’s using lead fishing weights for heft, taping them to the bottles’ sides. They’re a good shape for her purposes, echoing the length of the bottles, but she’s not sure how many she’ll need. That’s part of why she’s at ICA today, a few weeks before the show her work is in,Glitter and Folds, opens. A heavier pendulum will travel faster and make bigger forms than a lighter one. “I’ve done two iterations of similar projects,” she says, “but they’ve never been this big, and never with a ceiling this high.” She has to experiment with each variable until she gets it right.
Organized by ICA’s Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow Jennifer Burris, Glitter and Folds isn’t the easiest show to describe. The text on the exhibition card begins: “What do we know to be true? That the earth rotates, time moves forward, gravity pulls, and mirrors reflect light.” This is a poetic statement rather than an analytical or descriptive one one, fitting for a show like Glitter and Folds which will present work by four artists, each of whom—like Field—strives to make visible some potent but ghostly force. Subterranean social currents. Gravity. The drift of time.
Field has always been drawn to science, particularly chemistry, physics, and astronomy with their immutable laws. Her installation is titled and upon each stood a siren, borne around in its revolution, which is how Plato described the musicality of the orbiting planets in The Republic. Part of the work’s appeal is in the tension between the immutability of the force it makes visible—gravity—and the ephemeral nature of the forms it creates: patterns of glitter on the floor which entropy (and visitors’ shoes) will quickly wear away.
Many traditions make art of ephemeral dust: sand or pollen or powered bark. Field tells me about the mandala painting of Tibetan Buddhists (whose whole theology is based on the impermanence of the world), the healing sandpainting of the Navajo, and the British tradition of “table decking”—decorating the dining tables of the rich for feasts. She is especially drawn to the bonseki craft of Japan—another Buddhist tradition—in which landscapes are created on black lacquered trays with bird feather brushes.
Field’s own early work was in paint, but one day she bought a toy pendulum for her desk. Its movement appealed to her so much that she attached a pendulum to her studio ceiling and began making drawings with it. “The elliptical forms were so perfect and so simple,” she says. At first she used bleach, running it through the pendulum onto cloth: “Each kind of bleach would reveal a different color in the fabric. I love working with the bleach, but it was really wearing on the system.” Jennifer remembers visiting Field in her studio and finding her basically wearing a hazmat suit. Diamond dust, for all its sharp glitter, is safer.
In the gallery, the strings dangling down through the space are not attached directly to the ceiling. Rather, they are suspended from other strings that run horizontally, thus introducing another force into the system, making what physicists call complex harmonic motion. The horizontal string moves back and forth, and the dangling one moves in a circle, and so the forms sketched on the floor are more elaborate, squarer, and more complexly textured than if only one kind of motion were in play.
At the opening of the show at ICA on February 6, Field will set her pendulums in motion in an hour-long performance. She will start from the back wall and work forward, the bottles in the rear slowing as the ones at the front still swing fast. The performance will be repeated on February 27, and for a final time on March 13. Thus a work of art about cycles will exist in three cycles of its own. It’s as though a diligent deity were making the universe over thrice, inscribing the clockwork of its mind on the void in bright dust.
Glitter and Folds opens at ICA on February 6 and will be on view through March 31.
with tomorrow’s sun, A Night of Poetry & Performance, will be held in conjunction with Glitter and Folds on Wednesday, March 13, at 6:30pm
To stay up to date with all ICA’s sweeps of dazzle, email firstname.lastname@example.org.