Review: Rebuilding Mayfield
Lisa Radon for Ultrapdx
I recently stopped in on the second to last day of the first residency for Gestures of Resistance at Museum of Contemporary Craft.
The Museum of Contemporary Craft will never smell as good as it did yesterday afternoon…of freshly cut wood with curly shavings falling from the blade of a plane and drifts of sawdust in the normally pristine lower gallery as Sara Black and John Preus completed the second-to-last day of their two week project, “Rebuilding Mayfield,” part of the exhibition Gestures of Resistance.
A sandwich board at the entrance of the gallery reports that the longest game of telephone ever recorded began with the phrase, “They inherited the world and then the army came and scorched it,” and ended with, “Mayfield College.”
With beautifully aged douglas fir planks salvaged from a rural barn the artists found via Craigslist, they have been constructing environments that mirror one another on either side of a temporary wall bisecting the museum’s lower gallery. They’ve constructed a couple of short benches, a “donation box,” a platform with a roof, a work table with storage, and an “ironing board,” to be used by the other artists of Gestures who will take up residence after Black and Preus are gone.
The rub: the artists only communicate about the project verbally, only during the work day, and only through holes drilled in the sheetrock paneled wall between them. Black told me that each night one of them designs the next section they will work on, then in the morning tells the other the plan through the wall.
Black told me that she and Preus have for the last couple of years worked with a third artist. This is their first project working as a duo again. And so the fact that this project is about communication between two artists as much or more so than it is about any larger issues of craft or “resistance” is particularly fitting. Here made concrete are the daily invisible barriers to communication (bias or stereotype, distraction, attention deficit, and on and on). Here made concrete is the result of miscommunication: a rectangular hole oriented N/S rather than E/W. In “Mayfield” Black and Preus have set up a public experiment in which a successful outcome requires that they pay close and careful attention in the listening and in the making.
In addition, by performing craft, the artists reveal process, the durational nature of making, its means—it is a messy, messy business and mistakes are made—and tactics like the pencil sketches and lists and more lists on the sheetrock wall between them. By communicating freely with the audience/viewer (both were happy to talk while they were working), they both carve away some of the mystery of making and point back to the implications of the constraints they placed for their two week residency on their own communication.