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At the end of our conversation while walking around her new show, “Spells,” at Gavlak Gallery in Los Angeles, Lisa Anne Auerbach muses on solitary activities. Rubbing her chin, she settles on masturbation as the only true solitary activity, but I point out that her show involves reading, writing, driving, painting. “And knitting,” she says with a laugh. “Knitting is very solitary.”
Along with large-scale knit wall pieces, there are several sweaters in the show. Auerbach is a master of creating what she calls “bumper sticker” sweaters, which were originally worn as she rode her bike around Los Angeles. She explains that her initial interest in knitting sweaters comes from an early love of power pop group Cheap Trick, whose lead singer happened to rock text-driven stage garb. “I was very interested in the way Rick Nielson wore sweaters with statements on them, and how different those statements were on a sweater than they were on a T-shirt,” she tells me. “That’s why I wanted to learn to knit.” Auerbach pauses, and smiles. “I saw Cheap Trick on Wednesday.”
The sweaters have since become something of Auerbach’s calling card—she wore them on her bike, made them as show invitations, and they even made an appearance in this year’s Whitney Biennial. In all, she’s made over a hundred since she started knitting them in 2004. “I started thinking of them as another way to publish something,” she says. “I started thinking of them as zines.”
The sweaters shown at Gavlak are part of knit pantsuits, modeled on Auerbach-look-a-like mannequins (she did a 3D model from a fully body scan), complete with a bob hairstyle she’d had previously (her hair has grown out since). A few of them contain clever sloganeering, which becomes a thread throughout the show. Starting with the sweaters, other pieces in the show can be followed through to Auerbach’s fluid use of language. There are text-based flat knit pieces affixed to canvases, which are either some sort of text bubble or Twitter hashtag, sloshing together the antiquated art of knitting with neologisms and phrases that amused Auerbach by putting them into the modern format.
The most impressive part of the show also uses language to great effect: two issues of the hilariously oversized American Megazine that Auerbach made over the past few years—they are 60 inches wide because that is the largest width of double sided photo paper she could get. Aside from the size, the “megazines” are impressive in that they contain well-written reviews of megachurches (Issue #1) and psychics (#2), along with Auerbach photographs of the exteriors of these places of mysticism and faith.
After studying writing in grad school, Auerbach was a professional writer for years. “I started writing for art magazines—I wrote for ArtForum,” she says, “and I wrote for downhill skiing magazines and porn magazines. For many years, I was a freelance commercial writer doing these three different worlds.”
The megachurch issue in particular is fascinating, with Auerbach photographing the places of worship, sometimes surreptitiously, and sometimes facing threats from parishioners. But what struck her more than being chased away by churchgoers was the secular look of the buildings. “They don’t really look like churches,” she tells me as she flips the giant pages one at a time. “They look like corporate buildings or malls or casinos. A lot of K-Marts are now megachurches.”
Later in the show, the subject of porn pops back up with Auerbach’s “Torn Porn” series—several images in a side gallery are culled from a collection of ripped up pages from pornographic magazines found years ago in Chicago. The images are then blown up so that the dots of the images are visible. Which brings up another strand to follow in “Spells:” each of the works in the show are either pieces of something or they are made up of lots of tiny pieces, created from scratch. There are gouache paintings of knitting patterns rendered on paper that are made of tiny marks. “It’s just about making stuff,” she says. “Creating it. That it is made and not outsourced.”
Which makes “Spells” a show that necessitates a closer. Whether it’s taking the time to read the zines, or pouring over the hundreds of hashtags, “Spells” beseeches a stretched interval of viewing time. And it just might be best viewed solitarily.
Lisa Anne Auerbach: Spells, is on view at Gavlak Gallery, 1034 N Highland Ave., Los Angeles through October 18, 2014.