Orly Genger’s HURLYBURLY
by H.C. Arnold
Some of the best works of art don’t necessarily draw attention to themselves. Instead, they accentuate the world around them. They create a place of awareness, not just about the space they occupy, but also the viewer’s place within that area. Not so much a backdrop against which life unfolds, but more akin to a prop used by actors. Artwork such as this leverages itself into a complex dialogue, participating only as much as is needed. It asks to be seen. But, it doesn’t demand it.
You can find this delicate relationship in Orly Genger’s Hurlyburly. Currently installed at 74 Trinity Street, near the Boathouse at the Waller Creek Delta in Austin, Texas, the artwork occupies a small triangular patch of land bordered by various concrete walkways. The Contemporary Austin and the Waller Creek Conservancy sponsored Hurlyburly, and it is the first of many projects designed to bring large-scale public art projects to the Waller Creek parks.
As a user-friendly installation, Hurlyburly (like its material) stretches out in a variety of directions.
The work is composed of three different shades of blue lobster rope knitted together and lying across the ground. In some places, the rope piles up on itself making small hills and adjacent valleys as it trails away under nearby brush or spills out onto the walkways. With its cascading blues and rolling contours, Hurlyburly echoes the nearby river and surrounding landscape. Having been baked in the hot Texas sun, the rope is incredibly dry and stiff, but not brittle. In fact, the work is extremely durable, and you can walk across it and explore its hilly landscape. I witnessed several children running along its ridges as they played tag, while another pedestrian walked her dog over it. As a user-friendly installation, Hurlyburly (like its material) stretches out in a variety of directions.
Such a gesture critiques the idea of an artwork being a permanent singularity, and it illustrates the larger creative process of many artists.
Genger’s re-use of materials speaks to a variety of environmental issues. Had the artist not saved these ropes, I assume they would wind up discarded in a landfill. However, it’s not enough to only see the ropes as recycled. The ropes are meticulously stitched and woven together to create the artwork. The message expands in its scope to remind us not only of the need to re-purpose things, but also of the labor and time such an effort may take. Is that effort worth it? Well, consider the result: Genger has transformed an otherwise mundane patch of grass into a playground that is enjoyed by all. But, this recycling does not result in a harmonious balance between humanity and nature, nor does it preserve nature against humanities’ intrusions. The rope is so dense that grass cannot grow through it. Instead, it blankets the earth and suffocates the dirt below.
Then there is the issue of the artist recycling a previous work in order to create new one. Hurlyburly is constructed from another of Genger’s artworks titled Current from 2014. Such a gesture critiques the idea of an artwork being a permanent singularity, and it illustrates the larger creative process of many artists. Art requires time and revision, and often artists will spend months to years exploring one or two themes. This usually involves the re-use and re-exploration of ideas in new ways as they examine and flesh out what they are artistically striving for. We see this in Hurlyburly with Genger’s willingness to put process before product, and the work’s direct manifestation and questioning of recycling.
Other considerations are prompted by the use of lobster rope. Why this type of rope? There aren’t any lobsters that I’m aware of in the Colorado River. Is this a reference to invasive species? I doubt it. But with such an emphasis on material, I’m left wondering why Genger used it. In the end, while all of these questions and ideas are stitched into the rope for me, Hurlyburly sits passively along the shoreline as a dog sniffs curiously at it to the nearby sound of children’s laughter.
Hurlyburly is on view at 74 Trinity Street, near the boathouse at the Waller Creek Delta in Austin, Texas, through February 2017.