Wallpaper in Search of a Narrative: Julia Freeman

© 2011, Julia Freeman, VERY LITTLE ROOM FOR MISHAPS, mixed-media installation, Photos by Julia Freeman.

Julia Freeman’s installation Very Little Room for Mishaps drenches Gallery 4Culture in a visceral cacophony.  The Seattle artist’s hand-painted and collaged floral wallpaper wraps the gallery walls, while life-sized cutout photographs of shrubs and dark, amorphous masses on wheels float aimlessly within its center, intended to be pulled and arranged within the space by viewers. A table display of tape-wrapped tools provides the utilitarian objects of this estranged reality, while an ominous soundtrack created by Ajax Wood and J.M. McNuity complete the installation, fully immersing the viewer in the constructed scene.Compared to Freeman’s recent shoebox-sized scenes created for the windows of ACT Theatre, Very Little Room for Mishaps is colossal in scale, changing the role of the viewer from voyeur to participant.

More after the jump!  —Erin Langner, Seattle contributor

(detail) © 2011, Julia Freeman, VERY LITTLE ROOM FOR MISHAPS, mixed-media installation, Photos by Julia Freeman.

Those present at the exhibition’s opening delved into the heart of space, but few engaged with the wheeled objects awaiting interaction. The touch-free associations with art make the fourth wall difficult to break; most of those who did interact with the work lightly pushed the modest Shrubs; the few who confronted the comparatively massive Enigma (The Blob) and The Big Hand moved the works a mere few inches, a disproportionately small distance for their scale.  The timid interactions between viewers and objects created an absurd narrative of useless movements within the equally surreal room, no mishaps caused but no meaningful actions created.

The substance of this scene resides in the surrounding set rather than its center. Historically representative of craftsmanship, wealth and aesthetic design, more recently, wallpaper became undesirable; it is something to be torn down rather than salvaged. Freeman’s wallpaper counters this position, its hand painted flowers and carefully applied sequins introducing an element of humanity to the installation’s absurd theater. The delicate cutouts, layered pattern samples and kitsch color palette wash over the brashness of the installation’s darker elements; against its mustard yellow hue, Enigma (The Blob) and The Big Hand take on a pop sensibility that complicates the sculptures’ meanings. Freeman’s work veers away from simple categories, instead inviting conflicts between its images. In Very Little Room for Mishaps, the background controls the meaning of the foreground, leaving the viewer to wander in the space between the two.

© 2011, Julia Freeman, VERY LITTLE ROOM FOR MISHAPS, mixed-media installation, Photos by Julia Freeman.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Adult Public Programs Coordinator at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

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