Alison Owen

Alison Owen at Tilt


Alison Owen at Tilt Gallery and Project Space (detail)

We couldn’t help but get into a conversation about Robert Irwin’s notion of site-determined vs. site specific at Tilt Gallery and Project Space. Rather than saying I will make a piece just for this space and call it site-specific, Irwin went into a space and let the space suggest the piece, hence site-determined. (Our conversation, of course, is filtered through the artist’s seminal essay on site, Being and Circumstance and Weschler’s book on Irwin’s life Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.) Irwin’s work (maybe hanging a transparent scrim across the room at eye-level) dealt with how we perceive a space, how light and space interact.

In some contexts the word “notice” is just a step away from the word “perceive.” A visit to Alison Owen’s installation at Tilt Gallery and Project Space is about noticing. For the viewer, it’s a treasure hunt. Once you notice that some of the shadows you see are painted on the wall, you begin to look for more. Once you see that she has built out the white molding where the floor meets the wall several layers thick, you begin to look high and low. In several places she tacks 1/4-inch thick wood scraps to the wall, painted wall-white or stained to match the posts and beams, creating haphazard line or extension. Sometimes there is a strip of stripey paper or paint directly on the wall. What comes of it all is an appreciation for the thoroughness with which the artist herself has noticed the elements of the space (outlet, conduit, beam, stair, partition, plinth). These are elements we’d be inclined to pass over if her interventions didn’t comment on them, very subtly amplifying them until they’re just audible at dog-hearing levels.

Alison Owen at Tilt Gallery and Project Space (detail)

So it is that the two large pieces of paper hung on opposite walls, their edges curling away and casting myriad shadows, some real, some faux, feel like a head-fake: here’s the “art” for all of you unwilling/unable to look further. And if you came in off the street on opening night, they might have been all you saw, not being able to see through all the bodies the interventions at knee-level and toe-level. We got to wondering what the installation might have been like without the hung paper. Were they representative of the artist hanging on to hanging something art-like on the wall? Or were they a big invitation, holding the hand of the viewer, leading them into looking further.

Alison Owen at Tilt Gallery and Project Space (detail)

Like Irwin, Owen has created a truly site-determined work. And like Irwin, she engages light and shadow in the work. (Unlike Irwin, she has manipulated the light by moving a spot, say, rather than taking it as is.) The effect is subtle and exciting: “seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.”

We use “lower case” to refer to improvised music that is subtle, quiet. We’ve thought about this music’s visual art analog, considering the ubiquitous faux-naif drawing. We’ve found it here in Alison Owen’s installation work that makes you look harder, deeper, work that whispers. The final question then is whether Owen is about process, the artist engaging the space, or whether she’s leaving her mark–I was here–however subtle. Or if she overtly asking us to take notice of the easily overlooked.