One brisk and sunny afternoon I picked up Dan Alley from his Tulane studio. We headed out of town on St. Claude Avenue and, after half and hour of driving, made our way through a stately gated fence to the end of a winding gravel road to the site of Crevasse 22, an elegant group of sculptures corralled in this idyllic and improbable setting for P.3+. The location is a private estate in Poydras, Louisiana at a point along the river where, in 1927, the Mississippi River levee was intentionally breached and a great swath of St. Bernard Parish inundated in a bungled and unnecessary attempt to spare New Orleans.
Crevasse 22 was organized by the Creative Alliance of New Orleans and features some excellent works from a mostly familiar lineup of artists with ties to New Orleans. All of the pieces address the destruction, loss, beauty, nostalgia and flooding — especially flooding — that are so entangled with this location and tragedy.
Dan Alley and I were there to view Delta, a new semi-performative piece he’d made specifically for Crevasse 22. With this piece he’s tackled the concept of the catastrophe directly and eloquently by literally flooding a gentle slope with a crucible of molten aluminum. The resulting spill is simple and beautiful. It reads as a sort of scale model of the deluge from the levee breach. The crucible used to melt the aluminum has been left behind, tipped on its side, in a direct reminder of the human element in the original flooding. But Delta is also an elegant and organic sculpture. As the hot metal came into contact with the damp soil, trapped steam caused beautiful, random patterns of bubbles to form on the surface of the aluminum.
Dan is a relative newcomer to New Orleans. He grew up in Alaska and did his undergraduate work at Washington State University, where he received a BFA in ceramics. He spent most of the next decade in a variety of pursuits including landscape design, working the night shift at a glass factory, seasonal commercial fishing work back in Alaska, and as the visiting artist and shop tech at Mount Hood Community College in Portland, Oregon. A few years ago he decided that his studio practice was beginning to suffer and so he moved to New Orleans to study at Tulane University. He received and MFA in glass this past spring. Since then he’s spent his time as adjunct faculty at Tulane, as a technical consultant and fabricator for other artists, and as a freelance landscape designer. He has also stayed very busy in the studio.
Crevasse is just one of four different exhibitions that Dan is participating in as part of Prospect.3+. And so, with the afternoon light beginning to fail, we left the pastoral openness of Poydras and headed back into town to Barrister’s Gallery on St. Claude to visit Concerted Effort, the two-person show that Dan had put together along with Srdjan Loncar.
Taking up most of the courtyard is Calibrated for the Ends of the World, a giant plumb bob suspended from a steel beam. Instead of hanging “plumb” though, it hangs at 23.4º — the approximate tilt of the earth’s poles — in a funny and impressive reminder that at every scale measurement is a relative construct.
Inside the gallery are three pieces that all take a (sometimes humorous) look at various aspects of measurement, calculation and equivalency. The first, Dam3, is a physical representation of a measure that Dan created for use in his work.
The DAM is the abbreviation for Decamoti (just as the decameter exists but is not used all that often). The Motum is a unit of measure I calculated. Measurement is a construct. Currently there is the foot and the meter. The foot is a standardization of the most basic way we relate to the earth while the meter is a standardized measure of the physical world. The motum is designed to reconcile these two different ideals and is derived from two universal constants to the most accurate degree we, as a people, are able to measure our surroundings: the speed at which light travels and the passage of time. One motum is equal to the distance light travels in a vacuum in one oscillation of the cesium 133 isotope (currently the way humans keep track of atomic time). For me the important aspect of this piece is that, yes, the motum could be used as an actual measurement device. It fits all the criteria, in some ways better than the ones we currently use. But it requires that we embrace change to an inconvenient degree.
In Self Portrait: After Complete Fusion and Fission Dan continues to play with notions of measurement and equivalency by attempting to represent himself as a specific number of iron atoms and as glass panels hung at his height. The science underlying can get a bit heady but, when experiencing the piece first hand, there is definite, intuitive sense of being inside someone else’s thoughts is immediate, visceral and stunning.
Dan completes the show with For William Frishmuth: “ The Point is Received and Acceptable in Every Way”. Frishmuth was a pioneer in metallurgy and had the first aluminum foundry in the US. In 1884 he cast an aluminum pyramid as the cap for the Washington Monument. For his piece at Barrister’s, Dan made a mold the same scale as the cap from the monument and has cast dozens of versions (this exhibit contains fifty) in various combinations of aluminum and other materials. Some combine leaves or pine straw with the molten aluminum. Some use wood or chunks of other metal or glass. And in at least one you can even see the voids left from a batch of crawfish.
In Team, Draw, Activate at Antenna Gallery, Dan teamed up with Natalie McLaurin and Weston Lambert to make a large-scale figurative piece for this “exquisite corpse” -based group show. Natalie contributed the fabric head, Weston the oak tentacles that form the base, and Dan contributed the aluminum cast torso of the figure.
That piece came out of an idea I’ve wanted to work on for a long time. I grew up in a Christian house and learned the Bible at a young age. There is a story in which the king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a statue with feet of clay, legs of iron, thighs and belly of bronze, chest of silver, and a head of gold. Being drawn to the material aspect of this statue and how it was divided up I approached Ben Fox-Macord about making a collaborative statue for the show he was producing.
To complete his quartet of Prospect.3+ exhibitions, Dan Alley has an outdoor installation at The Front called The Time I Dug a Hole to China… And Missed. This playful, light-hearted piece toys with childish notions of spatial orientation while hinting nimbly at weightier issues such as global trade inequities, wealth distribution and debt.
“Concerted Effort” was on view at Barrister’s Gallery (2331 St. Claude Ave.) Nov. 8 – Dec. 6.
“Crevasse 22” Oct. 25th – Jan. 25th; Fri-Sun 11-4 (8122 Saro Ln. Poydras, LA). On Sun. Jan. 4, CANO is hosting a Country Brunch Reception at this location. 11-2. Read more about the December brunch here.
“Team, Draw, Activate!” Dec. 13th – Jan. 3rd; Tues-Sun 12-5 at the Antenna Gallery (3718 St. Claude Ave.)
“The Time I Dug a Hole to China… And Missed” Dec. 13th – Jan. 3rd; Sat-Sun 12-5 at The Front (4100 St. Claude Ave.)