Travis Graves is like a big kid with a construction set, playing with its endless possibilities. His kit can be segmented into small pieces or stacked as high as a factory ceiling. By adding wire, magnets, or simply counterbalancing his playthings, he is able to put them together in spectacular ways.
Graves will never run out of building toys; his materials are all around him. They’re trees, tree trunks, stumps, logs, and objects made of wood or paper. By suspending them or stacking them in unexpected ways, he encourages viewers to look at familiar natural objects with fresh eyes.
In a new two-person Redux exhibition, Graves has brought in several strange artworks for visitors to puzzle over. “In Balance #4” features a long log resting on a sawhorse. The log has been carefully counterweighted so that one end can sit on the sawhorse while the other stretches impossibly across the gallery space.
For “In Suspense #3,” Graves uses magnets to create a gap between two vertical logs. They quiver together as if dancing to the sound of the air conditioning. With this kind of trick, the artist explores the ways that man subverts nature to his own whims. “In Suspense #4” looks sturdier, joined to a corner of the gallery with smaller logs connected to form a kind of chopped-up branch. “Remnants of a Tree” shows cast-paper hands holding a pile of sawdust.
“Action and Consequence” has more hands. This time one holds a juniper tree upside down as it molts. It’s left up to the viewer to decide whether the hands are trying to save these remnants or if they’ve caused the tree’s demise in the first place.
There are just enough pieces to give a sense of what Graves does without displaying his full abilities. It’s like seeing the edge of a woodland instead of the whole forest. Anyone who sees his playful pieces will be left wishing there was more room for his work to be shown — it’s that intriguing.
Part of the artist’s goal is to get people to look twice at half-ignored objects. At second glance, a plain old log becomes something wonderful because it floats or balances precariously. In the same way, we can reexamine the natural world, appreciating it instead of just passing by.
Graves is currently experimenting with video. He recently filmed a piece called “Stumped,” a Sisyphean exercise in which he rolls a tree stump around a lawn. He’s also assembled shots of the moon, which glide past each other on a screen to form complementary patterns.
By looking at nature through a lens, he shares common ground with Cari Freno, who is exhibiting her video art concurrently with Graves. Although her clips are less work-intensive, they’re also rooted in her interest in human interaction with trees and plants. And she really interacts. She holds or sets up a camera and films herself climbing on trees, jumping up to them, hugging or dangling, often imagining that these stolid growths are people.
In “NEW,” Freno traverses a forest, introducing herself to different trees as if she’s mingling at a party. “Hold” shows her sticking her head in a tall, deep hollow. A large video projection called “Little Wanton” greets viewers as they walk into the gallery; in this piece, she’s masturbating a long but skinny branch. The hand job’s energetic, but the expression on her face is as lifeless as a winter twig.
Freno describes her work as “self-surveillance,” an examination of how she relates to people, nature, and herself. Through her art, she’s able to act out childhood impulses from the perspective of a mature woman. Sometimes she looks or feels silly. Other times, she creates videos that serve a similar purpose to Graves’ woodworks: They make us reconsider the amazing, knotty world around us.