Joseph Clayes III Gallery
Allison Wiese: Speaking Otherwise
September 20–November 1, 2014
Allison Wiese is an interdisciplinary artist who makes sculptures, installations, sound works, performances and architectural interventions. She received her MFA from UCSD, and a BA with honors in Visual Arts from Brown University. Her work has been exhibited in diverse venues throughout the United States, among them Machine Project in Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and Socrates Sculpture Park in New York. Wiese is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony, an alumna of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and was a Core Fellow of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She learned to walk and talk in Brooklyn, Drive in Southern California and everything else important in Texas. Wiese currently lives in San Diego, where she teaches at the University of San Diego.
I am a sculptor. I create poetry out of common things, repurposing and repositioning common materials to make new meanings. I use firewood, fruit, signage, basic construction techniques, a commercial awning or a whistled song. I also use shards of language – both literal texts like slogans, maxims, exhortations and symbolic language such as flags and football “fight” songs.
I’m fascinated by the way we look at our surroundings through invisible cultural and political lenses. My work attempts to subvert inert objects and signs by remixing them. I’m often concerned particularly with American cultural myths: California as a paradise reducible to a commodity cornucopia, for instance; or the positioning of industry and work ethic as icons of American character.
Beyond the immediate symbolic culture I draw on, I’m more and more consciously aware of some of the essential questions of my work: can we have community? Can we have a shared language? Or is our communication so contingent that we’re all actually alone all the time? My projects often lap the walls of traditional art venues, confronting broad publics with these questions.
The word shibboleth is derived from the Hebrew word for the head of a grain plant (some dictionaries offer up “ear of corn,” but I’m guessing this is an anachronism, since corn is a new world crop?) In the Bible (Judges xii), the victorious Gileadites use the word to distinguish the fleeing Ephraimites after battle, since the later are unable to pronounce the sh sound that begins it.
This story anchors an awkward contemporary metaphor in which shibboleth stands for a word, saying, custom, habit or sign that identifies members of a group to one another, and distinguishes them from others.
It’s a mystery - a word in an ancient language of such agricultural specificity that most of us will not need it anymore in its literal sense, but incredibly useful, in it’s other sense, for trying to understand ourselves.
I’ve amplified (enlarged, electrified and animated) language, which unites and divides. Its specifics are maybe arbitrary, but it can be dead serious business.