Jackelyn Wicklund
“What’s Lost is Safe”

One man’s trash is another woman’s art

By - May 31st, 2011 04:00 am
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Part of “What’s Lost is Safe” – photos courtesy of Sky High Gallery

If you’ve ever stopped to wonder where everything goes after you’ve finished cleaning out your attic or garage, your first thought is probably a bit more bleak than “stunning and intricate art installation.” But that is exactly what happened for some spring-cleaning Riverwest residents earlier this month as artist Monica Canilao perused their alleys for pieces to help create What’s Lost is Safe, her new solo exhibition at Sky High Gallery.

Of course, not everything in the installation was assembled from material salvaged from Riverwest alleyway trash piles–though, according to Canilao, three packed-to-the-brim cargo van loads were gathered that way. There were also many donations from local residents and crafters. Even before that, she started with a few pieces she brought with her from her home in Oakland, CA.  These pieces fall under two categories: whimsically adorned antique photographs, and editioned, specially-made-for-the-show prints.  These are the pieces that are for sale, though they blend seamlessly with the rest of the installation and can be difficult to pick out amongst all the other incredible assemblages.

courtesy of Sky High Gallery

The result of all these materials coming together is nothing short of amazing. The view upon entering the gallery (located in the rear of Sky High Skate Shop, 2501 Howell Ave. in Bay View) is almost overwhelming; it’s difficult to decide where to look first. It’s a visual adventure, something like a treasure hunt, as your eye deconstructs larger pieces to find their smaller parts.

Canilao cleverly  uses old and discarded items (like spools of thread, tiny glass bottles, scrap wood, branches, quilts, lace curtains, an old clock face, a mink pelt, a game board) and assembles them coherently by adding her own personal touch with dye and other materials.

There is very little wall space showing, yet somehow all these pieces, all this stuff, feels synchronous. Even the wall behind the pieces was carefully painted a greenish-goldenrod with a sort of varying drip effect to better accommodate the pieces.

Adding to the accomplishment of the installation is the short span of time in which it was completed. Canilao estimates that she and her collaborator Harrison put in about 108 hours working on the installation in the few days between their arrival in Milwaukee to the opening reception of the show.

Monica Canilao installing “What’s Lost is Safe”

“The gallery went from white walls to a full, magical environment in less than a week,” Faythe Levine, curator of Sky High Gallery, says. “It was amazing to see a pile of raw materials go from nothing to an amazing, beautiful creation–which is the reason I am interested in what Monica does.  She makes beauty out of nothing.”

Now, because of the way Canilao works, the repurposed store room at Sky High is currently housing something uniquely Milwaukee.

“I like to build installations that reference the city I am in while building. This is both intentional and necessary. What ends up being built depends on what sort of materials I find to work with,” Canilao says.

As for the title of this show, Canilao explains, “in short it references making sacred again the beautiful refuse that people throw away and I reuse in my pieces.”

All that junk lost from Riverwest attics and garages is, for now, safe at Sky High Gallery.

What’s Lost is Safe will be on view at Sky High Gallery through July 31. For gallery location and hours, click here.   The gallery will be open until 9 p.m. for Bay View Gallery Night on Friday, June 3.

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