An old art professor once told me, “If you have to use text in your work, you’re not doing your job as an artist,” and I’ve since been haunted by those words. There is much to glean from this statement: in the most traditional sense, visual art is meant to tell a story through aesthetics, without relying on words to explain what you’ve created. But Los Angeles artist Nicola Vruwink doesn’t use text as a support to the visual element of her installations. As a matter of fact, Vruwink’s carefully selected words are, often times, the visual element.
In her current exhibit, I Am Falling So Dance With Me, at Culver City’s d.e.n. contemporary, the dexterous artist crochets glossy black and brown tape from audio cassettes (to which it is still attached) to scrawl messages across the gallery walls. If her passages feel familiar, it’s probably because they are. Works like It’s My Party and I Want to be the One to Walk in That Sun are straight out of Pop music history. Vruwink revisits these defunct objects to create a sense of nostalgia, likely related to her own memories. Some cassettes even boast labels like “80’s rocker NYC girls” and “Road Trip 1,” announcing themselves as memorabilia.
At times in her small collection shown at d.e.n., Vruwink moves away from the pop lyrics and the tape medium altogether, yet still keeps the emphasis on her words. In several pieces, the artist switches to crocheting more traditional yarn, writing out statements of desperation in juxtaposingly bubbly, cheerleader letter sweater-esque lettering.
Installations which read “I Wish I Was You” and “I’ve Started Lying About My Age” lay lifeless on the gallery floor, their attached strands of strung up to the ceiling in tangled mess. Just as in the previously described work, the knitter of these letters, and the owner of those mixed tapes, sends out her S.O.S., a lonesome cry to past hurrahs and loves lost.
Other times, Vruwink strays from words completely, letting her frantic chain links of shiny tape take on abstract shapes. Nothingness of Nothingness is just that; a shapeless mass occupying the bulk of the wall on which it resides. Untitled is a fluid stream of the tape-crochet that seems to spill into a puddle on the floor, while Corymbus memoria defectus (ivy of memory abandoned) looks like wilted flora.
Vruwink’s apparent humor, which is evidenced in her unique choices of media and quirky style, is balanced by her tone of sadness, which radiates through each work, whether she literally spells it out or not.
The gallery offsets Vruwink’s work with that of Noriko Ambe, a Japanese artist who shows a small group of sculptures. Ambe cuts info stacks of Yupo paper, making craters and valleys that suggest a geographic landscape. Though most of the works are set in frames, behind glass, one remarkable piece shows a dissected red file cabinet. Though seemingly otherwise-unrelated, the art of both Vruwink and Ambe exhibits a tremendous amount of handiwork.
After several years working as one of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s primary visual arts journalists, Ashley Tibbits now lends her words to such West Coast sources as Flavorpill LA, ArtWeek, and RealTalk LA among others. When she isn’t judging the work of others, Ashley is developing her own mixed media/photography collection and praying that other critics will be write really nice things about it.
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