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Art

Melting Pot

Christopher LaVoie occupies a new gallery with slippery rage

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Christopher Lavoie

Through July 7 at sophiajacob

More at weekly.citypaper.com

One mixed-media Piece in Christopher LaVoie’s debut solo show at the recently opened sophiajacob gallery is a work of flabbergastingly subtle political rage. It’s also ridiculously cool. It’s a square steel table about the height of a good kitchen block. The top of the table is filled with about an inch of wax that is the deep velvety brown color of slurry mud found around a river delta. Beneath the tabletop is what looks like a cast-iron pot pressed right against the tabletop’s underside, as if the table is a plate used to cover the pot when you can’t find the lid. A burner heats a volume of water inside the pot, which boils and heats the tabletop’s steel. If you squat down and look under the table, water droplets condense in a radial pattern from the pot/table, and occasional stream threads ripple along the tabletop’s underside like rips up a stocking. From above, a circle forms in the table’s center right above the pot that looks lost, moist, and shiny like freshly polished shoes; hold a hand right above it and the skin warms in the comforting heat of a pie recently pulled from an oven. As the steel tabletop’s temperature gradually decreases farther away from the heat source, the wax becomes less pliable but not altogether room-temperature solid, creating imperceptibly slow moving designs from the molecular currents of a nearly solidified liquid. The piece is titled “Wax Vat (McKeldin Square).” Seriously: very cool.

Since his 2007 Baltimore debut, LaVoie has shown a knack for creating visually impressive objects. For “Grey Vibrations” in the Habitat group show at Goucher College, he mounted speaker woofers into a table and then stacked fine China and stemware atop it, creating a delicate tension between having nice things and the urge to threaten them. More impressively, his piece “Energy Temple” at the 2010 Sondheim Prize Finalists exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art remains a one-of-these-days dream purchase: a neon-glowing pyramid of subwoofers that emit a Sunn O))) low frequency of doom when touched. That, an endless supply of killer kind bud, and the cinematic output of Walerian Borowczyk on Blu-ray sounds like a most excellent retirement package.

Those earlier works were visually arresting but seemed disconnected from the intellectual impulses behind them, at least as they were conveyed in accompanying artist statements and program books. “Grey Vibrations” ostensibly came from a place dealing with domesticity, stasis, and movement; “Energy Temple” with domesticity and masculinity. Such claims weren’t so much incorrect as confusingly articulated. LaVoie obviously has no problem turning the thoughts in his creative mind into things; turning them into words can be bit more elusive.

Which is why it’s great to see LaVoie fully embrace being slippery in his works in this show. Sophiajacob, which was opened in May by equally cagey local artists David Armacost, Jordan Bernier, and Steven Riddle, and already has an impressive schedule mounted, is an intimate storefront gallery a block west of the H&H building on Franklin Street, whose white-wall rectangle LaVoie impishly turns into a celebration of permanent impermanence. The show includes four pieces—“Wax Vat,” the situational sculpture “Portable Water Blanket,” a salon-style installation of 12 collaborative two-dimensional works called “Unknown Patterns,” and the devastatingly witty poster “You Contemplate Activities 24 Hours a Day”—that quietly create a scathing comment on the right now.

The myth of change appears to be one of LaVoie’s thematic playgrounds here, specifically as it relates to the social body. “Portable Water Blanket” is a blue rectangle of rubber that LaVoie has placed inside the space opened in the gallery’s floor beneath a trapdoor. The door itself leans against the wall to the side, and LaVoie has filled the depression with water. It looks like a suburban backyard swimming pool whose construction suddenly came to a halt for some reason—ran out of money, the workers went on strike, the home was foreclosed on, who knows. All that’s left is a hint of what something was going to become—a marker of upper-middle-class affluence—that has now become a remnant of something incomplete.

Even more calmly barbed is “You Contemplate Activities 24 Hours a Day.” The piece is a blown-up photocopy of a memo/letter on City of Baltimore letterhead, every line of which is redacted save one bullet point, which gives the piece its title. In the corner next to it are other copies rolled up like posters in a bin at the record store. The setup is extreme deadpan, a caustic comment on the placating myth of open access to government documents. Yes, FOIA all you want: You can see we’ve got nothing to hide, except what we don’t want you to see.

Such cynical sentiments may feel a stretch given LaVoie’s previous artist’s statements, but recent events lend his enterprise a potent punch—especially with regard to “Wax Vat.” McKeldin Square, the site of Occupy Baltimore last fall, is parenthetically included in the title. Mounted on the wall behind “Wax Vat” is an overhead photograph of the site, the kind urban planners use to diagram ideas. Regardless of your political allegiances, Occupy—in Baltimore and elsewhere—became a movement to be addressed, and both media and local governments ignored it at the peril of their own future relevance. “Wax Vat” exquisitely captures that tension: Underneath the surface, everybody contained in America’s melting pot is at a furious boil. And while the above-board landscape changes due to the agitation beneath it, it’s barely perceptible. Change it does, but you only really notice if you’re complacent enough to sit on the sideline, watch, and wait.

sophiajacob is located at 510 W. Franklin St. For more information, visit sophiajacob.com.

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