Amy Hauft, “Tender Glass” installation, 2017. Photograph by Anika Steppe.
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
It had rained that afternoon, one of those odd Texas rains when there is only a 15% chance. The clouds threatened all morning long, the sun fought through them for a second, then it rained. The pitter-patter of water drops on leaves provided a soundtrack as I walked to and from testsite to view Amy Hauft and Carol Mavor’s Tender Glass. In the usual testsite fashion, a visual artist has been paired with a writer. The gallery exists in the living room and sometimes dining room of an unassuming brick house among the ivy-laden historic homes near Hyde Park.
I kept thinking of the line “Water, water, everywhere” watching Amy Hauft’s video projection of the surface of water on the ceiling of testsite. The projection fit the ceiling of the living room perfectly, following the corners, perimeter, and the rectangle of the fireplace (don’t ask how). The stream consists of moving water viewed from below the surface, ripples flowing from side to side, running into each other and bouncing off invisible objects. Salt has been poured onto the coffee table and a few air plants are spread out on top. One of the two arm chairs that always grace the living room has been replaced — with a full-size salt cast in its shape. A burst of sea urchin needles sits on the seat of the chair, waiting to poke anyone who dares. The light is low and the walls, windows, and pathways in the room are covered by an almost opaque white fabric that diffuses light perfectly soft.
At the opening, Mavor read the fairy tale she wrote “set within the circumstance of Hauft’s Tender Glass imagery.” Mavor read the fairy tale completely honestly, that is to say the way you might read to a child but never, never to another adult. Everyone at the opening stood there listening, captured like at a theater performance. The lights are dim, the water flows, her voice takes us along, and we go. If I could capture that for you, I would. If I could ask that someone read you the fairy tale when you went to experience the exhibition, I would. Take a friend and take turns reading out loud, like you might have in grade school.
Hauft’s installation immerses you without asking — subtly, gently, and completely. The use of water is poignant today because of repeated disasters, but also instinctively mesmerizing. We must be drawn to it because we need it to live, but what if we are under it, suffocating? What if we are flooded by it and it has been transformed into poison by our own products?
I could have sat staring for hours in the dim room. The fairy tale and the completeness of the installation show how both Hauft and Mavor can move you with their creations, without you knowing that you could be moved in such a way. There is no sound accompanying the installation and yet the power of the work left me with the imagined sound of trickling water that I can still hear now.
Tender Glass is on view through December 3, 2017 at testsite. Gallery hours are Sundays 4-6 p.m. and by appointment.