Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Installation Photos Courtesy of Bridget Donahue Gallery
From afar or at a quick glance, Lisa Alvarado’s pieces seem like an accomplished innovation that remains within the genre of maybe color field paintings. Or there are others that could seem like a fresh take on a spatter-type technique.
On closer inspection, however, it’s quickly apparent there is way more going on. Below most of the works exist grounding patterns made of carpeting. The paintings are also fringed, and by fringed, I mean with actual fringe, an intentional nod to the importance of textiles.“I’m interested in the history of textiles as a framework to think about painting and abstraction. It’s a culturally inclusive history that provides a different trajectory to think about forms and art objects, their histories and uses. I think about the in-between place of objects, like textiles, that are categorized as artifacts rather than art works. Could an artifact become an art work and an art work become an artifact? That in-between space is interesting to me.” Thus the fringe is more than a decorative element. It is also more than the frame for the painting in the sense that Alvarado considers her works to have multiple frames. “I think of it as layers of frames. Almost like a collage.” On the back of the pieces is a silk-screen of an image that Alvarado describes as a tear machine, which is a fascinating combination of birds and tears and Klee-esque machine for producing them.
Then, there is what I think is the most important aspect, the notion of activation and the fact that the pieces are inextricable from the musical context for which they are intended. Alvarado describes this: “I think the pieces are activated through the experience — the experience of sound, the experience of the shared gatherings around them.”
But it would be wrong to simply label Alvarado’s work with a gesture to the reductive term “multi-media.” The activation does not simply describe the fact that there is music that goes with the piece. Rather it is the collective experience shared by musician and audience in the presence of the work of art. “It’s something that I consider: Does collective experience do something to an object, a history, or a person? Is there any psychic residue or transformation that goes on?” Anyone who has ever been conscious of the distinction between experiencing music in your bedroom and at a show will understand what Alvarado means. And any kid who’s ever saved the stub from her first concert is a testimony to Alvarado’s insight that collective experience does indeed leave its trace on an object.
To the end of collective experience, Alvarado along with Bridget Donahue, curated a series of shows to take place among the works hanging from the ceiling. Performers included White Magic, William Parker, Battle Trance, and Natural Information Society.
Speaking of Natural Information Society: they are responsible for the sound installation as well as the music that twins the Alvarado’s pieces on tour. The group was founded by Alvarado’s collaborator and husband Joshua Abrams.“Natural Information Society is Joshua’s music. There is a core lineup of musicians who play with the band and others who augment the group depending on the concert and the context.” Alvarado is the harmonium player in Natural Information Society; she describes her initial attraction to the instrument as related to her childhood affinity for the accordion. “I’ve always liked the accordion. I’m from San Antonio, Texas and the accordion is a staple of the music from there. I love the sound. Hearing the harmonium for the first time, I was amazed how it is similar to the accordion but constructed to create more meditative layers as well.”
In a sense, the harmonium is an apt metonym for Alvarado’s work as a whole, which combines layers of frames, layers of meaning, layers of media, and always in a meditative way.
I think of the pieces as being activated through the experience -- the experience of sound, the experience of the shared gatherings around them.