Leslie Lanxinger’s Immersive World
By Genie Davis
Leslie Lanxinger makes art that’s a poetic narrative, the whispered voice embodied in a mute yet engaging visual performance. Building masks and costumes and forming from them both sculptures and charcoal drawings, the artist takes viewers on a mysterious ride. Her recent solo exhibition, White Whale, which closed February 12th at Coagula Curatorial in DTLA, is a case in point.
Enter a world as dark as the depths of the sea, a place where light penetrates so poorly the fish float like white bones. That’s the setting Lanxinger has created, an appropriate one for an exhibit that is inspired by Melville’s Moby Dick and is meant to bring viewers into the belly of that veritable whale.
The installation is stark, surreal, and yet entirely engaging. The world she’s created is dreamlike, if we dreamed only in black and white. It is visceral, and highly tactile. Here are characters based on the passengers on the Pequod; here are their dark thoughts and the hopeful rhythms of survival, the fierceness of loss. Here too is an altering journey through both the literal and metaphorical deep. This is a world that’s stark but not bleak; alarming but not frightening.
The black and white works are somehow more vivid than if they were in color. They are bones and wraiths, ghosts and sea foam, fossils and strange friends. We find Ahab and Starbuck, a great white whale. We are riveted and wary as we meet characters on the gallery/stage. There is a gentle quality even in the most grotesque of faces, a playfulness in Lanxinger’s imagery, even as it presents a fight for survival itself. The work is raw and wonderful, boiling with barely contained emotion beneath otherwise self-contained images.
The Los Angeles-based artist describes White Whale as “the all-powerful force of nature to which you must always succumb.” Lanxinger notes that her exhibition “symbolizes the knowledge that what you are fighting is internal as well as external, and can perhaps be reconciled, but never removed.”
Working with paper mache and textiles to her create masks and costumes, then rendering charcoal drawings on paper, or creating sculptural forms, Lanxinger has created the perfect commentary on today’s chaotic world. We are all both lost and found, adrift in a world devoid of color and yet strangely empowered from the experience. Heart-stoppingly detailed, the work leaches the very need for color from the room. The artist draws on strongly emotional themes, using references to mythology, literature, religion, and science as well as pop culture. Lanxinger’s masks fill one wall of the gallery space, tribal and intricate, tragic and oddly comic. A moon, a walrus, a fish, human faces resigned, agape, astonished. Long noses, dark eyes, sorrow, a strange ecstacy. These are the traits one sees studying this panoply of characters. Black stars and roses decorate the clothing of a full sculptural figure left sprawling on a black stool. The walls of the gallery are painted black.
These figures are not alone. We are not alone. Or we are all alone together in the belly of the beast. On the edge of despair, we are poised, waiting, as if for pale moonlight to discover us and save us.
Lanxinger’s White Whale exhibition may have swum on, but her ability to swallow viewers into her own mythology is assuredly just starting.