People-watching at an Anne Lindberg exhibition can be almost as moving as the art itself. Another viewer enters the gallery. Halts at the threshold. Gasps.
That's how it goes for this artist, whose works, steeped in processes of the "old brain," evoke primal, nonverbal responses. Your first look at Lindberg's site-specific installations — delicate threads sweeping across gallery spaces, connecting like muscle fibers into a breathtaking, organic whole — often yields a wave of unmitigated wonder.
Local galleries are going to be quieter next year — fewer audible gasps, less visible wonderment. Drawn Together, which opened May 30 at Haw Contemporary, is Lindberg's last show in Kansas City before she moves to upstate New York.
I visited Lindberg's Crossroads studio as she readied her installation for Haw. Graphite drawings, completed or in progress, dressed the walls, a symphony of lines sprinkled with gentle crescendos of color. We bent over her work table to examine her intricate scale model of the planned exhibition, whisper-white threads stretched taut across the long space.
The Pitch: How do you prepare for these site-specific installations? What features of the space do you consider?
Lindberg: I've been looking at this rectangular space since John O'Brien moved the Dolphin there in 2008. I've always had a great love for how John transformed the space. It seemed to warrant something without an aggressive gesture of color. I always consider the temperament or sensibility of each space, what the energy of the space or the light seems to warrant.
In this case, the installation has a very settled quality. It's a very simple gesture, with a span of 55 feet. I wanted the full vertical height of the gallery to be activated, from floor to ceiling. The installation will stretch from eye level to the ceiling, and the drawings will be from eye level down.
Are you surprised by what emerges when you actually get into the space and begin the installation?
I can't make them in my studio, so it's a huge leap of faith. I have boxes of color, I have the palette, but I don't know exactly where the color's going to go. It's a form of painting on some level because it's being made in the space. I use scale printouts to map the number of contact points of thread to the wall, and that's a map that gets us started.
I made multiple models for Haw, and in the fourth, I decided I wanted to really activate the entire room, make it a more immersive situation. I'm hoping that when you get on the other side — you can duck under; there will be an alignment between the bottom of the thread and the top of the drawings — you'll feel the proximity of those two energies.
What happens to these installations when the show closes? It's not as simple as taking a painting down from the wall.
The threads are cut and gathered and returned to my studio in a bag. I do keep the bags of thread, but they have a time, and then it's time for something else. The making of them is a little like a performance, so taking them down is an extension of that.
It reminds me a little of Tibetan sand mandalas: You labor over something so intensively, only to dismantle it.
Others have made that comparison before — it's a nice reference. I understand these things as momentary. It's OK with me that they come down. In my last installation at the Dolphin, its personality was disappearing, so taking it down was part of that process. Watching the threads fall is quite beautiful.
That Dolphin exhibition was a little over a year ago. How has your work changed since then?
This is the first exhibition of my work where the 3-D drawing and 2-D drawings are being made as one work. They've accompanied each other in previous exhibitions, but this is the first time they've been conceived of as an environment, as a total work. I've also recently become interested in the darkest of darks in graphite. That's what's being considered in my studio right now.
You referred to the thread installation as a "3-D drawing." Is that distinction important to you?
I understand all of this as a form of drawing. There's something to do with the scale of the line, the body's relationship to making it that feels most true to calling it drawing. The 3-D drawings can certainly be called installations or environments, but the word drawing is a noun and a verb, and that's interesting to me: a thing and an action. Drawings have a very strong sense of their making, which align with the subtle decisions I've made about showing the staples that connect threads to the wall, or, in some graphite drawings, where you can see both the beginning and end of the line. There's an honesty in showing that. It's present. In the last 15 to 20 years, drawing has been brought to a new place in contemporary thinking, and my work is part of that discovery.
Your graphite drawings seem to have such exact, meticulous lines. Do you know before you begin where color might emerge or how the lines will vary?
I have a sense of where it's going, but that can change. I've had two drawings sitting in here for a week, and I just put color in this morning. The decisions I make for a drawing aren't isolated — they're part of a conversation I'm having with all of the work.
A lot of people ask me about my patience in making these. They don't require patience so much as they require paying attention, looking for minute subtleties and changes. The tool is the catalyst for these decisions, how the tool behaves. It's one tool on one material.
You've referred to your work as a form of self-portraiture. How do you reveal yourself in your work?
They reveal the nonverbal ways that I relate to the world: how my body responds to space, how my body responds to light, air currents, contrast, sound. All art is a form of self-portraiture, but I think there's an intimacy to these pieces and also an element of veiling or blurring. I'm a very private person. I have a goofy side, but the perceptions that I take to are often nonverbal and quiet.
You're moving to upstate New York soon. What will you miss about Kansas City?
All the connective relationships between people and resources. I'm going to have to reinvent that. And I'm not going to be living in an urban place anymore. I'm going to miss the openness of the people here for sure.
The title of the show, Drawn Together, is a metaphorical notion. My work comes about through all of the people who have supported me along the way. John O'Brien doesn't know it, but this is really for him. Well, I should say he doesn't know it yet — he'll know as soon as he walks into Haw.