tree of life
a reflection of time & of being & a reminder of our past, present and future
acrylic, led lighting, custom mechanics and custom electronics
five units 203 x 46 x 20 cm; 80 x 18 x 8 in each
To stand before an artwork by Lois Andison is to open oneself up to an offering of words. Over the past decade the artist has taken recourse to language and lists, isolating and repeating words, rearranging their letters to understand their depths and limits, and to make these aspects known. Through rigorous research, high minimalist aesthetics and kinetic technology, Andison engineers words to appear, vanish and then reappear before our eyes. heartbreaking 91 (2009), as an example, unravels into its title’s linguistic variations: heartbreak, hearten, heart, hear, hearing and so forth, until all possibilities have been exhausted. The letters then return to their original positions—the beginning—thus forming a loop. In Andison’s world, the death of one word is the birth of another.
This regenerative process mirrors that of living things: nature, like language, is central to Andison’s output. With tree of life, the artist’s largest and most complex work to date, Andison has orchestrated a multi-part synchronized installation. It consists of five rectangular boxes that are equally spaced and precisely positioned. Their hard-edged, pristinely crafted appearance makes for a stoic visual. Each white acrylic panel keeps a word—beginning, becoming, believing, belonging and bequeathing, spelled in sequence from left to right. Together, they express a lifetime. Like heartbreaking 91, multiple words are excavated from one, initiating a trail downward: bequeathing, bequeath, beeting, beet, been, and so on. The source word and its kin are engraved into the panel’s surface like a headstone epitaph. Words come into view by a warm backlight that travels vertically along the structures, illuminating one fragment at a time, row by row, in unison. In this way the work refuses any sense of visual finality. Perpetuity stems from Andison’s wording, particularly bequeath, which doesn’t denote an end, but a transition—the endless passing off of information between entities.
What the five structures have in common, beyond their shared programming and materials, is the word i, which closes every cycle of word disintegrations. Each panel is uniformly cut to reflect the width of the human body. A sensor awakens the artwork and initiates its action when the viewer is present. The sculptures foreground the observer as they release words as sharp, emotional, and absurd as the personal images and memories they sign for. To borrow the words of conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, each time we go to articulate a word, we describe the world and our being in it, for better or worse.
While Lois Andison’s sculptures are exquisitely fabricated and painstakingly programmed, they remain, in effect, ethereal, and her practice continues to be rooted in the ordinary. Experiencing her work, I turn to images of scanners that field for data; traffic lights that blink stop, slow down and go; endless registers of things, numbers and names. This project renews her commitment to the essential systems that connect people and experience, including art-making and language. The title tree of life is an ambitious phrase, and one so ubiquitous it verges on banal. Indeed, Andison chose the phrase for its overuse and wide circulation in mythology, science, religion, literature, pop culture and education. Over time, the title has grown on me, and I have been moved by it. Imagine: one living entity that connects all life forms; that has weathered war, fire, flooding and wind; that has survived the extinction of species and borne the arrival of others; that carries, in its roots, the weight of the world and yet, for civilizations, has had to remake itself into a soaring, defiant and loving thing.
Lois Andison is a Toronto-based sculptor and installation artist who works primarily in the field of kinetic sculpture. Using movement and transformation she offers an evolving, often poetic, experience to the viewer–the work asking for sustained viewing in order to complete itself. Her interest in language as material and concrete poetry for its pictorial form led her to sculpturally combine text and motion. Here she systematically deconstructs and recombines words in order to foreground the instability and ephemerality of language, meaning and contexts. In doing so she expands the relationship between things and being. Underlying elements in all her work, including video and time-lapse, are documents of time, subtle deposits of humour, methods of adaptation and critiques of social conventions and gendered experience. Andison is currently an Associate Professor in the Fine Arts Department of the University of Waterloo. She is represented by Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto, and Art Mûr, Montréal.
BMO Financial Group