The writing is on the wall, along with fragmented photographic images and Joel David Waldrep's cartoonish icon of a sad empty box, arms drooping lifeless at its sides, teetering on the brink of tears. An undergraduate at UNM, Waldrep has constructed an installation inside the Walls Gallery that fits in perfectly with this alternative venue's guiding philosophy.
Carly Larson and her brother Frank opened up the Walls in March of this year to provide a venue for UNM graduate students to exhibit overtly noncommercial art. The space, next to the Artichoke Café on Central, suits their needs well.
They made the operation self-sufficient by installing living quarters in the back, subletting the apartment to cover the rent. The plan, says Larson, "was to create a gallery with little overhead and no income" aimed at exhibiting alternative art that probably wouldn't be raking in a lot of cash.
"We've focussed on shows that are out of the ordinary," she says. The Walls' six exhibits thus far have all been installations designed for the Walls' unique space by UNM graduate students. Larson only charges $150 to the artists, mainly to cover wine and food for the reception.
Larson was careful to point out that she wants the community to know that the space is available for alternative art events. Basement Films hosts numerous screenings in the gallery, and Larson would like to have performances there as well.
Waldrep, the first undergraduate to exhibit at the Walls, has created an installation that's exactly the kind of experimental work the Larsons seek to promote. I stopped by last week, when the show was still in the final stages of being hung.
Inspired in part by his two-year-old nephew's murder in 1998, the show is an exploration of the melancholy side of human existence. Waldrep painted the gallery shades of olive green for his show. Poetry is scrawled right onto the walls with markers, and video is projected against a window at the back of the gallery depicting some of Waldrep's serene but occasionally ominous memories—a ladybug crawling across a hand, a bike ride at sunset, a dying crow, a homeless man hidden behind the lonely haze of his imprecise image.
Abstract photographs line three walls, evenly spaced at eye level, composed of abysmal blackness and jagged saturated tones designed, according to Waldrep, to simulate human tissue. He created these tumultuous images by systematically gouging, tearing, scratching, burning, twisting and spitting on the negatives in the dark room, "all in the hopes of simulating the pains of life." The final element is sound, morose piano music interlaced with snippets of conversation and poetry.
Don't be fooled by Waldrep's repeated references, verbal and visual, to sadness. The show won't be nearly as depressing as it sounds. If Such a Sad Box is any indication, the Walls Gallery looks to be an important addition to Albuquerque's experimental art scene.