Calvin Brett: General Labor

Though Saturday, Mar. 16

Lump, Raleigh

Art+Architecture opening reception

Friday, March 15, 6–8 p.m.

Perkins+Will, Durham

The exhibit closing Saturday at Lump, General Labor, is garbage.

I don’t mean that figuratively, but literally. Durham-based artist Calvin Brett has made a collection of sculptures, sculptural paintings, and video installations with and about trash. He has cut pieces of cardboard into floral shapes, attached them to “canvases” (also made of cardboard), and painted them pink and green. He has assembled scraps of Styrofoam, spray-painted them gold and silver, and hung them on gallery walls, like abstract paintings-cum-collages. He has made a tapestry of cardboard boxes, a curtain of plastic bags. He has piled trash, sorted according to color and material, on shipping pallets spaced evenly around the gallery.

This all makes for quite a multisensory experience. It’s rare that one is struck simultaneously by the sight and the smell of an artwork’s material. Given the diverse shapes and textures with which Brett works, the show even endows sight with a weird tactility. In one abstract assemblage, rows of spikes, honeycomb-like scraps, smooth rectangular blocks, and radiating circles—all Styrofoam—are dizzyingly juxtaposed. One longs to touch it, the sense synesthetically activated through vision. 

As interesting and startling as these forms are, Brett’s exhibit is not only or even primarily about the final products on display, but the sequence of steps that led to their creation. We get a view into each stage of the process. There are videos showing him walking along roads, looking for his raw materials. There are the piles of sorted trash, which reflect a necessary organizational step before the final act of arranging the sculptures and paintings. 

This is not the same kind of process-oriented art familiar from the paintings of Jackson Pollock, the music of Alvin Lucier, or the films of Dziga Vertov, where allusions to artistic creation or revelations of method result in art about art. Rather, the art is the byproduct, the supplement or derivative, of a less culturally elevated act. Brett walked around neighborhoods in Durham where he noticed an abundance of trash. Over the course of many trips, he cleaned parts of these neighborhoods up, sometimes video-recording himself doing so. Though a subtractive act, he added beauty to both the neighborhoods and to Lump.

You can also catch the results of Brett’s striking entwinement of service and art in a site-specific installation in Durham architecture firm Perkins+Will’s new Art+Architecture series, with an opening reception this Third Friday.