Art Fly: "Lumen Tetrachotomy" at The Big Top

New year, same Art Fly...

'Lumen Tetrachotomy' on view at The Big Top NOLA presents the 'simple aesthetic pleasures of glitter and rust, twine and shine.'

It took me a few minutes to register that there was a baby in my face. I was sitting on the stage steps at the “Lumen Tetrachotomy” opening reception at The Big Top last Friday night, wholly absorbed in my notes, when I felt a little presence inches from my nose. I looked up and found her staring at me, dressed in a hodgepodge outfit of giraffe print and tulle, standing on her own, but just barely. Her father let her watch me for a beat or two before picking her up. “Isn’t that crazy?” he asked, pointing to one of Elizabeth Eckman’s sculptural chandeliers hanging overhead. The baby’s neck craned upwards and her face relaxed into a gummy grin. “You don’t know where to look first!” he said, as he twirled her away.

I feel you, kid, I thought. “Lumen Tetrachotomy” is a tactile, glittery, mishmash of an exhibition that is hard to take in all at once, but sure makes you happy to try. A combination of works from four local female artists—Elizabeth Eckman, Rachel David, Rachel Speck, and Sarah Rose—the show features photography, sculpture, and mixed-media pieces that while patently different, come together in a harmonious visual display.

When I first walked in, the one-room gallery space was nearly empty save for the artists, a few of their eclectically dressed friends, and that baby with whom I would later become much better acquainted. Arriving before the crowd meant that there was no distraction from the intriguing interplay between the pieces around the room. The perimeter of the gallery featured Sarah Rose’s sumptuous mixed-media work and Rachel Speck’s stark yet wistful photography. Rose’s Unfinished #19, 2012, with its two glossy black-and-white abstract photos framed with charcoal grey glitter served as a visual counterpoint to Speck’s paired-down, ethereal figurations. The latter’s series, Distance, 2008-2012, presented post-Katrina shoreline devastation side-by-side with portraits of her grandparents in an ode to “isolation,” death, and in particular, her recently deceased grandfather. Moving between the two artists provided a sort of yin-yang visual experience—each representing a distinct side of the same textural coin.

At points around the room stood Rachel David’s elegant, organically-inspired iron sculptures. Her large pieces, like Motions, 2012, with its rows of what she described as “simplistic humans” (but to me seemed more like stretched, distorted Giacometti-style tulips) provided necessary heft to the exhibition. Their weight especially offset Elizabeth Eckman’s airy, crocheted chandeliers that hung throughout the space, dripping with silver baubles like Blanche DuBois-styled ship sails. I spent much of my first hour at the gallery wandering around—conceptually lost, but uncertain that it mattered—reveling in the simple aesthetic pleasures of glitter and rust, twine and shine.

It turns out that reaction was exactly what featured artist and exhibition curator Sarah Rose intended. She explained that at its heart, “Lumen Tetrachotomy” is about mixing disparate elements, particularly texture (her artistic focus), into something collaborative and congruent. She purposefully sought to pair new artists (herself and Speck) with more established members of the New Orleans art world (Eckman and David) and display a variety of mediums to reflect the community-oriented, participatory nature of The Big Top space.

As we talked I realized that the once-empty room had slowly filled with all kinds of art appreciators—punky, nerdy, old, young (and infantile). Suddenly the room was filled with people of all stripes and persuasions chatting, checking out the art, listening to the genre-bending bands on stage, and altogether enjoying themselves. By the end of the night, the reception felt more than a wild, weird collection of individuals though. Taken in together, the motley crowd of attendees (along with the art, the musical acts, even that baby’s curious outfit) had become larger than the sum of its parts. Just like the exhibition itself, our ragtag group had found a kind of sense, partying together with the strange, happy affinity that only New Orleans can produce.

Editor's Note

“Lumen Tetrachotomy” on view through February 23 at The Big Top NOLA (1638 Clio Street) in New Orleans.