Allison Lacher at CUAC
Both the gallery space and the greater geographic location act as accomplices to Allison Lacher’s current installation, Nonnative, now on view at CUAC in Salt Lake City, and work especially to confuse our sense of scale. The fifteen or so cut-out Saguaro cacti that crowd the small back gallery appear absurdly finite. In the otherwise unadorned room, each cactus faces the viewer in a nearly identical fashion, minimizing perspective. Though technically sculptural, the work retreats to the shallowness of an image and radiates irony in its reductive portrayal of the American desert.
It is not only the actual size of the desert—literally present beyond the shaky confines of the Western American city—but its material connotation: roughness, adversity, self-sufficiency, that provide contrast for Lacher’s wry installation. The material used in the display is both decorative and shamelessly mass-produced. Reflective St. Patrick’s Day foil forms the surface of the cacti while vertical silk ribbon (the sort which adorns a tasteful wedding) is caressed by cool air from four electric fans. In short, the installation is painfully domestic, denying the vastness of Western landscape and at the same time affirming its severity, its integrity.
If one chooses to read Lacher’s work as a comment on the consumer lifestyle and its shallow consolations, the message will surely resound for viewers in Salt Lake. The city is itself a bit of an artificial park, whose apparent fertility fades quickly on the less prosperous outskirts of West Valley. ‘The desert is tolerable only when transformed by commercial fantasy,’ seems to be one angle of Lacher’s elusive humor. The cheap foil of mass-produced comfort, the protocol of domestic ease, acts as an antidote to nature and its stern truth.
It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the charm and optimism also present in Nonnative. The same material sheen which provokes cynicism in the adult viewer might very well amaze and captivate a child. The glittering cacti inhabit a strange space–both ironic and sincere–and confront the viewer with a problem he is not quite prepared for. How does one reconcile the natural world with our reasonable desires for security, simplicity, and pleasure? The cacti remain silent on this question, but just as they mock our inability to transform the desert, they also give off a glimmer of encouragement. There is still some aspect of the fantasy that we cannot, and should not, let go.
Though herself a Midwesterner, Lacher demonstrates the importance of work emerging out of a depopulated, Western context. Utah remains, from the perspective of New York and LA-centric art scenes, a “cultural desert,” with little or no stake in the artistic vanguard. Yet, it is precisely the wide open space (both literal and cultural) of such regions, the space which Nonnative playfully inverts, that allows art of a slower and wiser strain to emerge. CUAC, for its part, is poised to show work that defies provincialism, while stoking the slow fire of a geographically marginal art scene.
Allison Lacher: Nonnative is on view at CUAC in Salt Lake City July 18 – September 12, 2014.
Images courtesy of CUAC.