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Datebook: Artists Process Lockdown Emotions In 'With One Stone'

Lisa Walcott, left, and Susan Emmerson, right, explore the ways "home" has changed in "With One Stone," on display at the McLean County Arts Center.
Lisa Walcott and Susan Emmerson
Lisa Walcott, left, and Susan Emmerson explore the ways "home" has changed in "With One Stone," on display at the McLean County Arts Center.

For many of us, the pandemic has been a time of fear, uncertainty, stress, boredom, and a slew of other rather unpleasant emotions.

While some artists sought to escape that reality, artists Susan Emmerson and Lisa Walcott used it as fuel.

The results are currently on display in the exhibition, “With One Stone” at the McLean County Arts Center(MCAC) in downtown Bloomington.

The name is Walcott’s riff on the classic proverb that it’s better to kill two birds with one stone.

When MCAC scheduled the show in 2019, Emmerson and Walcott already were thinking about the way a single, small event can have large, rippling effects — like a single stone dropped into water — or the microscopic virus that, unbeknownst to them at the time , would wreak havoc around the globe.

As the pandemic raged, the artists’ work took on new meaning.

Walcott said she’s often leaned on the domestic as a source of inspiration. Spending nearly all her time at home in 2020, inspiration was all around her.

“I teach and I parent and I make art,” Walcott said. “So those three things were just completely indistinguishable at that time. They were all happening right from home.”

Rather than escape from the chaos to create, Walcott put herself right in the middle of it.

“For the series of drawings, I actually forced myself to work at the kitchen table,” she said. “I wanted to feel what it was like to make this work at times where that collapse felt like maybe content for me.”

Walcott’s sculptures evoke the items you’d find in any busy home. But the wadded-up sock and cast-off pair of pants that would normally lie on the floor for a day or two have been immortalized in cast-iron effigy.

“So they’re these kind of crumpled forms that, maybe if you’re not being very intentional or very tidy, you’re creating compositions within your space.”

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“There’s three of them, and they look like they’re kind of cleaning the floor or something, maybe wriggling around,” Walcott said. “There’s like a funniness, there’s maybe a little bit of a sadness because they’re working incessantly for something that’s like, completely meaningless.”

Meaning, or apparent lack thereof, is something Walcott explores in her drawings, too: little bits and bobs appear strewn across the page in haphazard fashion.

“They’re these things that I saved because I liked their shape or color, but they’re really small and basically could have been swept up off the floor of the studio,” Walcott said.

She scattered the items across the page and drew the result to produce her final images, forever affixing them to the page.

“Which felt so much like shelter-in-place to me,” Walcott said. “Wherever you were, you just sort of had to stay there. And it could be somewhat arbitrary where you were in the first place, but now that’s becoming this permanent location.”

Susan Emmerson turns the apparent permanence of home on its head.

In the sixth image of the series “Hiraeth,” houses shed roofs, siding, wallpaper and plumbing as they plummet from the paper’s edge. In image number 1, houses pile up in two great heaps, intact but set at alarming angles, the valley of building materials below hinting at their fates.

Emmerson said she started drawing collapsing houses in the fall of 2019, just before news out of China warned of a novel coronavirus.

Back then, Emmerson was thinking about the kind of loss brought on by natural disasters.

But as the pandemic took hold, thoughts of personal safety and mortality swirled.

“Homes for some have become unbearably confining, for some uncertain or nonexistent, and for others a desolate empty place to grieve,” Emmerson wrote in her artist’s statement.

“I’m really not a depressing person, I’m just really interested in all of this,” Emmerson insisted.

She’s also personally familiar with the feeling of home being turned upside down.

“I had this work in a similar show in March here in Boston,” Emmerson explained. “And after that show a friend said to me, your drawings aren’t about natural disasters, they’re about you. And she was referring to the fact that my husband died when my kids were young and it was kind of a rough time, and I think she’s got something there.”

Emmerson said she understands why some may be reluctant to reflect on all the negative feelings of the pandemic.

But, she said, “I think that there is a lot of grieving that has to take place, or we’re never going to move on.”

Not to mention, many of the issues born out of the pandemic are ongoing, Emmerson pointed out.

“I don’t think this is going to be a thing where we just flip a switch and it’s all good and fun and sunny again,” she said.

The McLean County Arts Center will host a public closing reception for “With One Stone” from 6-8 p.m. July 16.

Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.
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