Curator Pick: Always by Melissa Vogley Woods

Michael Goodson, Senior Curator of Exhibitions

Apr 09, 2020

Antique patterns activated by light in the windows of a three-story Victorian home

Submitted for sharing by Wexner Center programmers.

For Always, artist Melissa Vogley Woods has used the windows of her Victorian Village home to share swirling, light-activated patterns from a Raoul Dufy textile design created in 1920, the year the Spanish Flu ended. Michael Goodson, a fan of the work, connected with Woods via email for a Q&A about it.

Details on where to find and how to activate Always are available here.

Woods is a multidisciplinary artist and curator whose 2016 film Boxed was the first work commissioned for the center's video presentation space, The Box.

What was the impetus for this project, meaning: how did the coalescence of the Dufy pattern as a signifier and the materials and our current situation occur?

The work came out of a series of returns really.  Like many people, I had to move my studio back into my house, a place with limited materials and limited space, which in turn called for a re-envision of my work methods. This was the first return. Working in the house reminded me of work I did a decade ago...installations that involved whole houses and a return to this way of making seemed fitting. I found it compelling to expose something so private, one's own home in this moment of isolation. I was very interested in expressing something about our current condition. 

To figure out what form the project would take, I had to return conceptually to the last pandemic of this kind to fully understand this current experience and to imagine an outcome as well as a visual representation that could hold this intention. While researching the Spanish flu of 1918, I learned that the cycles of epidemics seem to always repeat themselves. I wanted to focus the work on this repetition and re-imagine the moment when we had made it through in the past. I wondered what I could come up with that could possibly signify that? How could I imagine that now from within it? What I determined was that my imagery was going to be pulled directly from someone's work who was there, who had made work the year the Spanish Flu ended in 1920. I was not sure if it would be a form, image or an object or text. 

I decided on the windows as the framework because it is a boundary between the outside and inside. I had reflective vinyl from a previous project in my garage and then continued to search for the project's language. I decided to narrow the search by returning to a previous category of making—textiles and fabric, an early love of mine. I gravitated toward textile [work] because of its often close proximity to the body and home and its relationship to interiority and intimacy. I further narrowed this search to patterns; I wanted something that would draw the viewer even if they did not know the research. A fabric pattern has a distinct feeling, a feeling of an era so to speak.   

I was able to isolate about two dozen textile designs made exactly the year the pandemic faded. Once I found Raoul Dufy—it was an instantaneous decision. The bold use of scale was the most attractive, how he designed the patterns to overwhelm the figure was important. His history with wood cut and printmaking and its visual trace in the pattern were key because of printmaking's history with information and dissemination and lastly, Dufy’s relationship to beauty, I felt that this was really needed. 

"I wanted something that would draw the viewer even if they did not know the research. A fabric pattern has a distinct feeling, a feeling of an era so to speak."

What was the process like for this project?

The longest phase was the initiation research, all of which had to be done online. With the help of the Fine Arts Librarian at Denison, Stephanie Kays, it took about three weeks total. The last week was a solid week of hand cutting the reflective vinyl, in which I went into hyper-drive, really working day and night. 

Was your family involved at all?  I ask because families have been drawn close of late for many of us.

My youngest was at her dad’s for several weeks and the oldest was working on figuring out how to have a senior year of college remotely. So it was a lot of solo work in the bedroom. In a way their distance let the work happen more intensely, but that said, my partner was my sounding board throughout the project. 

Image of Melissa Vogley Woods home installation Always, streaked from shooting at night from a moving car

Evening drive-by view of Always; images courtesy of the artist

How have people been reacting?  Are you getting feedback?

I love my porch, and from there I catch folks checking out the signage using the qr code. I'm so interested in what the reactions of people just passing by. I have heard lots of “oh how cool” and warm regards so far. I love to see people in the evening lingering and playing with the reflected light, the neighborhood seems to be enjoying it. A former student and current MFA at OSU, Armondo Roman responded that he didn't realize how much he missed seeing work in person and he found the piece contemplative and invigorating. Most people stop and read about the project on their dog walks and often return in the evening.  People have started posting photos of it on social media now too. I aim to share a sense of hope and point to our global past with a reimagination of something so beautiful as Dufy’s design. Personally, I am rethinking the power and use of beauty and of the decorative arts after working on this project. 

Given that you likely have flashlights, camera flashes and headlights aimed at your house starting at dusk, what’s the experience of the work like from inside the house?

Headlights don’t do much because of the angle, but camera flashes and flashlights enact the work and leave amazing little slivers of light that come in and move about. Even as the sun is going down we have an amazing array of Dufy-esque shadows that dance around. That is the best part for us inside. 

I have a candle luminary set out every night as a beacon for people who come and they return this beacon with these little flashes and passing light across the house. It feels like signals from a lighthouse- beaming across a great divide.