William Lamson: Badwater

Installation Views
Press release

Make Room is pleased to present New York-based artist William Lamson’s solo show Badwater, opening on September 1, 2018.

For this exhibition, Lamson has constructed a complex installation of objects, materials, and processes to create an abiotic ecosystem; a network of non-living things that, while inanimate, continue to exert their material agency. In a time when extreme weather conditions have become a reality around the world and in California in particular, Badwater uses a climate-controlled infrastructure to create an accelerated cycle of flood and drought. Inspired by the saltwater spring in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin and the resilient ecosystem around it that has evolved to withstand these harsh conditions, Lamson’s piece is a generative work that brings these quiet geological forces into the gallery and allows them to develop over the two-month duration of the show.  

Using a system of pumps, hoses, timers, fans, and lights, Badwater transforms Make Room into a microclimate, an open system in which the movement of water through the physical structure and the air itself becomes the catalyst for rapid, geologic growth. Once a day, peristaltic pumps push a solution of magnesium sulphate up through the tubes at the back of the installation and out onto glass shelves, where oscillating fans accelerate its evaporation. A dehumidifier works in opposition by pulling water out of the air and feeding it back into the system, where it spills out into a pan and slowly dissolves large blocks of salt to create a solution of sodium chloride, which then flows into aluminum pans at the front of the gallery.

As the salt water evaporates, it demonstrates the uncanny property of crystallization upon the surfaces, climbing the glass and resin sculptures placed in the pan with a speed that resembles organic growth. In contrast, as the solution of magnesium sulphate begins to dry, it crystalizes into large, clear sheets, like the first layers of ice forming in a body of water. The liquid forms fragile stalactites when it drips down the tiered display structure, which eventually collapse under their own weight in a constant process of growth and decay. Even the viewers entering the space and breathing the air release moisture into the room, contributing to this exchange and becoming a part of this material flow.

Badwater also incorporates a series of foam and blown glass sculptures that relates to the artist’s interest in how the movement of water, air, and gravity affect geologic formations.  Lamson constructed a device that allowed him to rotate polyurethane foam as it expands so the effects of gravity on its growth are not uniform. The resulting organ-like forms are then covered in pigments and resin, further transforming the original material into something resembling ceramics or obsidian. These synthetic works are in tension with the mineral processes unfolding within the installation, yet they further collide as the sculptures sitting in the saline solutions are gradually enveloped in a crystalline skin.  

In relation to the reactive processes happening throughout this installation, the artist also showcases a series of unique photograms. He produced images on the roof of his studio by placing light-sensitive silver gelatin paper under the glass, salt, and foam objects in the installation and allowing the paper to be exposed directly to the sun. These massively overexposed images are then partially developed, arresting the chemical process before it can affect all of the silver crystals in the paper, resulting in a spectrum of eye-catching colors.

Badwater continues the artist’s work in creating experimental systems that engage forces and phenomena through durational, performative actions. Most related to this project is his 2017 installation, Mineralogy, at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah. The site-specific installation, hidden within a partially collapsed former WWII armaments building, is experienced as a diorama in which viewers look into a one-room cabin interior throughout which hundreds of vessels of salt water have been repeatedly filled and allowed to evaporate. The process encrusts the vessels and the surrounding furniture in delicate columns of salt so that, embedded within a ruin that is itself undergoing the entropic effects of time, Mineralogy suggests an uncanny vision of an uncertain future.

Lamson’s work has been exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, including the Brooklyn Museum, The Moscow Biennial, P.S.1. MOMA, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.  In addition, he has produced site-specific installations for the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Storm King Art Center. He has been awarded grants from the Shifting Foundation, the Experimental Television Center, and is a Guggenheim Fellow.  In 2019, he will attend the prestigious Alexander Calder residency in Sashe France. Lamson lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and daughter.