C+ An evocative labyrinth of
Southern art that would look
better at night.
“I’m just having my lunch in the jail,”
Hartsville artist Candice Ivy told us when we first called her, “then I’ve got to hoe my soil.” Her meticulous positioning of furrowed soil in a couple of the Old City Jail’s cells was the start of a complex, intriguing installation dubbed Murmurs, a hit with visitors to last year’s Nextwave Arts Festival in Sumter.
If visitors listen closely, they’ll be able to hear those murmurs amongst sounds of rattling railroad tracks, approaching trains, and disturbed birdsong. But Ivy isn’t just referring to the rumbling aural element of her art; she’s listened to the noises around the Southern homes she grew up in, which form part of her personal experience as well as a broader, cultural one.
Ivy’s blending of natural and manmade sounds, pumped through speakers tucked behind black drapes, is a small component of her installation. She’s had to adapt her show to fit the Old City Jail’s cells, with a site and experience very different from Nextwave. “Instead of a long, single space, this site is broken up, so I’ve had to adapt to the separate spaces,” she explains. Rather then building small “rooms,” she’s created walls using mylar panels to create mazelike corridors. “Visitors have to walk through to see drawings that are on the panels,” says Ivy. As they wend their way through this labyrinth, they walk on irregular planks salvaged from her grandmother’s burned-down house. Thus the artist combines events in her own life with the experiences of viewers who enter the site, adding their own personal traces to the art like footprints in soft earth.
In the two soil-floored cells, video projections add moving, indistinct images to the mix. Ivy hopes that the whole encounter conjures up a powerful vibe, particularly with Southern viewers.
“The culture of the South made my family what it is,” says the artist, “and I’m exploring how the South feels.” Never mind the cells with uneven floors, filled with tendrils of wisteria or breeze-swept fabric sheets; the cracked, grungy jail itself enables visitors to do some exploring, too. “The houses my family’s owned all feel a certain way and now they’ve fallen into decay like this space.”
Ivy’s drawings are the most accomplished part of the show; perhaps a lack of confidence makes her hide them behind so many bells and whistles. But she copes with the hassles of having her show open only during the day (she’d prefer it to be a nighttime experience), by adding more fabric and mylar to the barred windows, creating a murky little world of memory and chucking in plenty of elements in the confident knowledge that something will spark a recollection with people who share her cultural upbringing — the rural sounds or the thundering trains; the images of home and hearth, or the smell of the fresh soil. No wonder she has her lunch there; she’s right at home.
Whether or not viewers will be affected in the way the artist hopes, there’s enough here that touches on socially deep-rooted themes like regional history, living off the land, and make-do-and-mend to make this a worthwhile installation, whether visitors feel at home or not.
CANDICE IVY INVITATIONAL: MURMUR • Piccolo Spoleto • FREE • On view through June 9. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. • Old City Jail, 21 Magazine St. • 724-7305 Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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