Hali Palombo’s “Nothing to Write Home About,” on view in Elastic Arts’ sprawling performance space, consists of an extensive series of spare drawings, black ink on white vellum. The small, rectangular, unframed drawings are affixed with thumbtacks and arranged neatly at eye height across two walls in the venue’s back corner. Palombo describes the drawings as depicting “liminal space,” areas one sees without really seeing. The exhibition opening coincided with a live performance where the artist mixed field recordings and sound recorded during a trip to a small town in Iowa.
The drawings could easily have been produced on the same trip: fragile, thin lines frame nondescript buildings and empty roads, electrical poles and billboards, parking lots and fences. Some drawings are truly minimal, one rectangular building or lamppost accompanied by nothing more than a horizon line, others are more detailed. In one, a number of unidentifiable objects fill a nondescript lot, in others, several buildings crowd a small frame. Sometimes the drawings depict natural features, trees or grass, but more often they depict the constructed spaces which emerge haphazardly out of the landscape alongside rural highways.
Like the experience of that vast emptiness, few of the drawings in this show are remarkable or particularly memorable individually. Exceptions might be the occasional fragment of text, the sparing use of which recalls the random manner in which a billboard might abruptly pull a dazed traveler out of their road-induced trance. Although text is the most immediately remarkable detail which emerges from the drawing’s more studied banality, after walking away other details also seem to stick: an oil rig, the billboard advertising a swap meet, cows grazing in a pasture. The drawings effect though is more palpable as a group. The linearity of both the works and their display, one after another along the gallery wall, smartly recalls the contents as they were encountered in their original context. There is a soothing meditative quality to the drawing’s repetitive sameness which sets in as viewers move slowly along the walls.
Palombo’s opening night performance afforded an opportunity to consider the difference in register between work in recorded sound and drawing. The sonic performance, fully using Elastic Arts’ sixteen-speaker electro-acoustic sound system, was aggressive, immediate. Palombo described it as evoking the ambivalent feeling of being somewhere you shouldn’t while being unconcerned with your intrusion. If the drawings in part evoke the lack of memorability in liminal space, they do offer occasional details to hang on to, something I found the sound performance to lack. There’s a more apparent subjectivity at work in the drawings, what is being seen so much more obviously filtered through a particular set of eyes and sensibility.
The smallness of the drawings in the vastness of Elastic’s space makes a certain kind of sense. A visitor might miss them, just as one might miss any of the details Palombo captured in ink. What their display in this gallery, or any gallery illustrates, is the mutability of liminality, the manner in which anything can become a something, any place a “there” under the right circumstances or from the right perspective. It’s something Palombo’s other practice of field recording evinces more broadly: that there is value in stopping to listen (or look) at what you take for granted. The drawings emphasize more poignantly what makes field recording an art: the unavoidable presence of the subjectivity behind the microphone. (Jennifer Smart)
“Nothing to Write Home About” is on view at Elastic Arts, 3249 West Diversey #208, through March 19.