Rebecca Ward, Seventeen is Sharp, 2009, electrical tape, vinyl adhesive, with components of Muster and Rally (collaborative work) on ceiling (foreground).

Rich and Sumptious Collaborations, for the Pleasure of the Viewer

Installation view, foreground, Muster and Rally (ceiling), background, Emily Sall, Shucking and Jiving, 2009, vinyl.

Emily Sall, Olla Podrida, 2009, acrylic on wood panel, 60 x 60”.

Rebecca Ward, Seventeen is Sharp, 2009, electrical tape, vinyl adhesive, with components of Muster and Rally (collaborative work) on floor, ceiling, and foreground.

Emily Sall, Muster and Rally, detail (collaborative work), 2009, electrical tape and vinyl.

Installation view, foreground, Muster and Rally (ceiling), background, Emily Sall, Shucking and Jiving, 2009, vinyl.


23 West 12th Street
Kansas City
Information is Incidental
A Joint Exhibition
by Emily Sall & Rebecca Ward

June 19-Aug 4, 2009


The space is urban: all concrete and exposed girder, rebar and ceiling fasteners and lung-draining space. Just outside, a filthy goliath of a bus exhales a brume of city byproduct. From the main window, one cannot even view the sky as the facing prospect frames a hulking, grey façade that lurches skyward.

A few remaining hours before tomorrow’s opening and the space reeks of a low-slung nervous hum.

Their measured movements seem only a hint frantic as Emily and Rebecca pause to visit briefly before returning to last-minute tasks — touching up an application of tape, dragging a ladder, applying a few, final sheets of vinyl, or turning over a sticky medusa’s ball of colored adhesive scraps. Jared, the program manager from Urban Culture Project (Charlotte Street Foundation) even lends a hand, teetering on a ladder to jostle a projector into place.

Emily is the more talkative, “It’s different than other instillations. I generally work intuitively, off the cuff — this is way more controlled than before … I tend to show in white-box settings.”

Rebecca, intent on finishing touches, interjects, “I usually have a plan, but this is crazier … I am used to displaying in curious settings: an apartment, on a window … but this has become a response to the space, the architectural elements.”

Emily Sall and Rebecca Ward met only a week before when they first gained access to the space. For seven days, they have been in each other’s company. “Over the last week, we’ve become more comfortable making a suggestion to the other’s work,” notes Emily.

Introduced via email by Urban Culture Project's (Charlotte Street Foundation) Kate Hackman, neither Sall nor Ward have worked together before. Ward is from Austin, Texas. Photos of the space, taken by Kansas City native Sall, were the basis for initial contacts. Scattered over a couple months, the images allowed them to begin conceptualization of the installation.

The viewer steps from the gallery entrance down two steps into Ward’s Seventeen is Sharp. The exhibit’s largest presentation, reaching from ceiling to floor, it dominates the East wall and makes for one hell of an introductory piece.

Ward has drawn the white of the wall down onto the floor in rectangular blocks that reach for the toes of the viewer. A mirror progression of monochrome grey and brown bands mimic the sidewalk’s pallet and swell to rose to orange to yellow before a full-throated chroma of blues and greens. Retreating again into brown and grey, they flow away into the shadowy upper reaches of gallery space.

There is a gravity to Seventeen is Sharp, stoked by size and fed by positioning within the exhibit. Ward’s primary medium for this exhibit is electrical tape. Her palette has been limited by availability from common outlets. Ward's use of color and line in Seventeen is Sharp peaks right before the viewer in a series of colorful latticework hammocks that pull from the wall and anchor it to the floor.

Set in a corner like an unruly child, Ward’s second piece, Corundum, projects a moving fishnet stocking of lines and diamonds — an animated tattoo. While the exhibit as a whole incites movement, the Tholian Web (in Star Trek when Starship Enterprise is ensnared by a web of energy) of Corundum projects onto nine disparate surfaces: folding walls, concrete beams, ceiling and duct work.

As the physical openness of the gallery collapses, Ward cedes the spotlight to three paintings by Emily Sall: Olla Podrita, Round the Bend and Bandy-legged.

“They are very rigid and masked off — which required a lot of detail work and time,” notes Sall. “Yet, from the beginning I was contemplating how to get messier.”

In turn, a larger picture is followed by two smaller images. They mimic the retracting physical space. Olla Podrita is the more sizeable, and juxtaposes large geometric concentrations of brown and turquoise against a nervous unraveling of orange and yellow, red and blue. Like a hurried opening and closing of Venetian blinds, angles pogo-stick across its center carrying forward Ward’s evocation of motion and utilizing the brokenness to hint at the skyward lust of urban architecture.

In Round the Bend and Bandy-legged Sall adjusts her theme, freeing her colors from geometry. With more curvature of line we encounter a curious conjuring of piping, paper clips and habittrails.

The viewer next stumbles into an end panel of Sall’s triptych, Shucking and Jiving. You can’t help but be tickled by her playfulness. The majority of Shucking and Jiving occurs above the viewer’s head. And yet, the gallery space makes stepping back for a better view a challenge. I am reminded of the human chaos of the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge — and so many other suspension bridges.

Placing the heavy lifting of the work above head height, Sall teases the viewer, tempting them into space readily accessible only by her. Loftier elements, the uneven clustering of thin, vertical, black lines, slightly off-kilter and not quite lining up, occupy the top charkas near the ceiling fasteners. But is Sall promising enlightenment, serious discussion, or wicked humor? White and black prison bars audition for a roll in a Keystone Cops comedy.

Along the bottom, down near our heads, bumping up against our thoughts and the buzz of conversation, the work unwinds. Frolic spills out. There is a chaos of color and right angles. From the corner of an eye, one can almost make out familiar shapes — a purple crescent wrench busily loosening the soldier-like rigidity, freeing line and color to take shape as a purple and blue saxophone! Here Shucking and Jiving hones its animated frivolity the opening credits of a Pink Panther movie.

As one proceeds to the second panel, you cross a curious moment in the gallery space itself — a gap, a span, a viewing slot as if for archers atop a battlement. Looking through into the neighboring gallery there is a glimpse of multi-sized boxes scattered catty-wampus across a floor …

And then there is a cramping, a bottleneck of physical space and you are into the second panel of Sall’s triptych … The ceiling, settles right down on top of the viewer. Two tube lights inject spotless florescence into the tightening space, and the viewer must confront two works simultaneously.

Collapsed by the low-hanging intermezzo, Shucking and Jiving shares the claustrophobia with the only true collaborative piece in the exhibit, Muster and Rally.

The reflective vinyl changes timber and refracts shrilly as one moves. Here black-lined order breaks down. The greys are off kilter and swelling towards color. Pigments careen at dangerously free angles, fat and juicy and filled with everything not black and white.

“From the beginning, we knew that the predominant theme would be linear,” said Emily. “There is much in the totality of this exhibit about symmetry skewed by the reality of the gallery space.”

Overhead, lines bleach as they traverse light fixtures. Lines cross each other, and the full range of the exhibit’s palette is given reign. In a bit of fun, a series of fuchsia strands droop like bra straps into the faces of the viewers. In Muster and Rally, Ward has returned to her earlier motif — thrusting color away from the surface and into the viewer’s space.


You are through the thick of it, through the narrows and back into open space. Was there is a cooling in the room’s temperature as it again freed up?

The symbiotic osmosis of room to city, propels one toward the exit even as Shucking and Jiving confronts us with its final panel. Seventeen is Sharp again looms to the right. The circut is nearly complete. It is almost a coda whose unsung task is to gently reintroduce a chorus of line and rigidity before ejecting us again onto the drab lines and angles of downtown, Kansas City evening.

Will Leatham is the proprietor of Prospero's Books in Kansas City.

Installation view, Emily Sall, Olla Podrida, 2009, acrylic on wood panel, 60 x 60”, Emily Sall, Round the Bend, 2009, Acrylic on wood, 30 x 30”, Emily Sall, bandy-legged, 2009, Acrylic on wood, 30 x 30", Emily Sall, Shucking and Jiving, 2009, Vinyl; Cantilever ceiling: Emily Sall + Rebecca Ward, Muster and Rally, 2009, electrical tape and vinyl.