2019 Ballast & Barricades ICA Philadelphia

PROJECT OVERVIEW

"Opening on September 13, 2019, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania (ICA) will present the first major institutional exhibition of Philadelphia-based artist Michelle Lopez. Michelle Lopez: Ballast & Barricades (on view through May 10, 2020) employs a fragmented architectural language to critique systems of power and consumption through a large site-specific installation that builds a decrepit cityscape both reduced to and suspended by rubble. Marking her most ambitious work to date, the presentation builds on Lopez’s previous body of work House of Cards (2018), weaving together earlier works with new pieces that formally allude to protest, human migration, ecological crises, and the ongoing impact of rampant gentrification. The resulting installation presents a sculptural terrain that harbors political discord, teetering on the brink of collapse.

'We are thrilled to present bold, new, and recent work conceived by local interdisciplinary sculptor and installation artist Michelle Lopez. Her experimental approach to processes, intricately reimagined use of industrial materials, and deft craftsmanship will create a space inside ICA that interrogates the human condition, challenging our audiences to think critically about pressing social issues, including gentrification, race, and representation' said Amy Sadao, ICA Director. 'In Philadelphia, these very concerns, along with questions examining the impact of displacement, are particularly relevant. Through this ambitious program we invite the local community to engage in dialogue and be inspired.'

Known for creating sculptural works that subvert histories of minimalism through a feminist lens and deconstruct symbols of nationalism, power, and identity through a process of formal reduction, alchemy, and violence, Lopez transforms the ICA gallery into a meditation on our fraught political moment through Ballast & Barricades. Blockades, borders, flags, and natural elements meticulously crafted by hand bleed together as distinct yet interconnected symbols within the space. Fragments of construction sites, scaffolding, large boulders and architectural structures are positioned within the wider work to create a delicate system of counterweights and counterbalances, permeating the immersive installation with a sense of precariousness. The aggressive sound of a flag and its rope hitting a flagpole from the artist’s earlier work Halyard (2014) enhances the sensory nature of the experience and heightens the sense of disorder presented through sculptural means.

'My practice has evolved to examine debris and the aftermath of violence, while my process continues to build inversions of cultural iconography in order to investigate notions of human failure,' reflects Lopez. I’'ve explored abject forms of violence and entropy through subcultures ranging from skateboards to epic-related action figures and models; monolithic Minimalism to national flags. I’m invested in the history of sculpture and what it means to make objects and figures in these uncertain times. My installations have become spare structures of which bodies may have traversed, so my work suggests the history of bodies and of violence in the absence of figuration.'

'Lopez imbues her formalistic approach with symbolism, creating visually striking works that are infused with multiple meanings,' said Alex Klein, the Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber (CHE ’60) Curator at ICA. 'Ballast & Barricades offers a range of interpretations rooted in histories of sculptural practice to explore political and social issues within a built environment, drawing on the local Philadelphia landscape to raise questions around displacement, gentrification, urban decay, and the dangers implicit in the construction of borders, both physical and imagined, within our increasingly nationalistic context.'

Concurrent with the exhibition, ICA will present a series of programs that will draw upon the themes of the exhibition. These will include dialogues with contemporary artists working across film and performance around issues of race and representation in the museum; an intergenerational discussion on the legacies and politics of Minimalist sculpture; and an examination of gentrification and urbanism in the context of Lopez’s explorations of themes of displacement and borders. ICA is also producing the first publication devoted to the artist’s work in conjunction with the exhibition. Michelle Lopez: Ballast & Barricades is organized by Alex Klein, Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber (CHE’60) Curator.

-Michelle Lopez: Ballast & Barricades, ICA Philadelphia, September 13, 2019 to  May 10, 2020 excerpts from the press release.

"In Ballast & Barricades Michelle Lopez employs a formal, fragmented architectural language to critique symbols of nationalism, power, and consumption. Known for her sculptural works that recast histories of minimalism and everyday objects through a feminist lens, in this exhibition Lopez brings together a selection of recent sculptures alongside a monumental, site-specific installation that creates a suspended cityscape reduced to rubble. Here, blockades, borders, flags, and natural elements bleed together while remnants of construction sites and scaffolding create a delicate system of counterweights and counterbalances—all meticulously crafted by hand.For Lopez, this sculptural terrain is suggestive of an ongoing history of bodies and violence in the absence of figuration. It is an urban landscape fabricated out of the material remains of crisis, teetering on the brink of collapse."

-Alex Klein, ICA curator, opening wall text for the exhibition.

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BALLAST & BARRICADES
steel, pure lead, pine wood, tin, silver nitrate, paracord, pulled glass, aluminium, concrete, chain, rope, tarp, insulation foam, cotton, rubble, scaffolding, chrome, automotive paint, drywall, telephone wire, highway lamp and building fragment
Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
2019
PROCESS NOTES
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Some rules for building: Ballast & Barricades 

1.   Metal rope moves in opposite direction. Does not hang down. Does not operate like suspende drope. it supports whole structure at base. Only moves upward.

2.   Hollowed rods within structure allow for part of the structure to be strung up—so it will be suspended and supported by a building fragment or water barricades.

3.   Scaffold is not assembled to be complete. Parts are attached and supported by the rigid rope.

4.   All ladders have one vertical part missing, making it unusable.

5.   Fabric or drape acts as “platforms” on the scaffolding. They are substitutes for flag material.

6.   Flagpoles do not have fabric. Possibly will have some lead sheets draped around on top to suggest fabric.

7.   Metal gets larger in thickness as the work moves up vertically.

8.   Fences and police barricades are at the base.

9.   Barricades are steam-bent and the only component made out of found wood. After bent, they will be stenciled/painted with fluorescent orange stripes.

10.The entire structure will be counterweighted by a central building fragment, even though parts of the structure climb the wall, it will stand mainly from the counterweight of the suspended building.

11. A single highway light will be suspended by a crane like structure. It spins like a police or ambulance light.

12. A couple Cables/power lines will dissect the space. They begin close to the ceiling and will be attached to poles that resemble electricity poles.

13.One large pulled piece of glass will hang in the space.