catalog essay “Nascent”
Suyama Space in cooperation with Space City and 4Culture
Seattle, WA October 2010
As you float through Gerri Saylerʼs luminous, nearly translucent, serenely enveloping installation at Suyama Space, you may find yourself making small swimming motions. To pass between the suspended strands of what looks like crystallized surf, a gentle breaststroke works well. To navigate under the lower strands, which appear to undulate up and down like waves, do a little dive, as though bobbing underwater for a glimpse of life below the surface. Sayler would probably not be surprised to see visitors swimming through her installation Nascent, which is, after all, about water.
Saylerʼs decision to turn more than two thousand strands of lacy, seaweedy dried hot glue into a water world is a nod to Seattleʼs maritime history and a response to the weathered wood floors and ceilings of the space, which bring to mind the battered hull of a ship. Walk a few steps into the gallery’s northeast quadrant and a couple of particularly cranky floor planks make such aggrieved creaks and moans that you may hear seagulls cry and water slap against a wooden ship. This is fun.
But such literal imagery, evocative as it is, is merely entry into Saylerʼs more metaphysical explorations about the natural world and how we humans exist within it. In her relatively short career as an artist—she worked in arts marketing before earning a BFA in 2007 and devoting herself full time to art—she has created abstract installations that are meditations on natureʼs never ending cycles with their implications about the meaning of time, and by extension, our own mortality.
In the past, Sayler has created homages to the prairies and marshlands of the upper Midwest and Canada, where she spent her young adulthood, and to the rolling landscapes of the Palouse around Moscow, Idaho, where she now lives. Nascent was inspired in part by a recent six-month sojourn in New Zealand, where she was captivated by the countryʼs wild western coastline and its ceaselessly crashing waves. In these works, Saylerʼs art making process itself became a ritual that echoes the endless repetition and renewal of the natural world. Creating Nascent, she spent months at her kitchen sink, glue gun in hand, drawing calligraphic runes of molten glue into filament ribbons. Like fingering rosary beads or spinning prayer wheels, sculpting a couple thousand strands of filigreed glue must surely be an act of reverence.
Nascent is beautiful, just as water—unspoiled by human carelessness—is beautiful. When sunlight beams through the skylights, the installation sparkles and pirouettes like froth spuming in the surf, or like rivulets of rain refracting light during a summer shower. On darker days, the installation is crystalline and silent, a forest of wintry icicles. (Or perhaps on those gray days, the installation should be viewed as ambient “mizzle,” a delightful term used in New Zealand when precipitation hovers between drizzle and mist.)
In these times, itʼs impossible to consider water on the scale of rivers, lakes and oceans without remembering that water is an imperiled resource. As ice caps melt and uncontaminated water becomes increasingly precious, Nascent reminds us to watch out. To be careful. Water means life. Without it, we donʼt exist.
Yet Nascent is no nag. It is an optimistic piece. Stand in the middle of the installation and the walls of Suyama Space disappear. The glue strands, which on close inspection resemble exuberant chains of DNA, seem to stretch on forever, and itʼs easy to slip into a reverie for the infinite intelligence of the natural world.
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Robin Updike, formerly art critic for the Seattle Times, is a Seattle-based arts writer and internet editor.