Alice Momm: The Gleaner’s Song
On ViewArsenal Gallery
Today, as it rains in northern Brooklyn, I sit indoors dreaming of Central Park’s Ramble. There, flanked by the (previously) bustling Upper East and West Sides, one feels anonymous and protected. Thick beds of oak leaves pad the city’s blows, boulders and bird songs create partitions that allow for private thinking. My nostalgic musings are inspired by the quietly wondrous works of Alice Momm, whose solo exhibition, The Gleaner’s Song, opened in Central Park’s Arsenal Gallery on March 12th. The show presents roughly eight years of work driven by playful imagination and deep sensitivity. Momm’s artistic practice—which blends poetry, sculpture from found materials, and photographs of nature—delights in revaluation and recycling. In a manner neither self-righteous nor insistent, the artist’s humble materials gesture toward a gentler inhabitance of urban and cultural settings—one that draws gladly and respectfully from natural resources at hand.
The Gleaner’s Song fuses interior space with natural imagery and outdoor ephemera. Collections – In the Retelling… (2012–2020) constitutes an array of palm-sized compositions, installed across three panels, that blend organic materials, paint, bits of paper and cardboard, and pictures clipped from magazines. Momm selected these compositions from a “collections wall” kept in her studio, wherein past and present interventions are invited to coexist. Featured here are rose-colored leaves from which thin swirls have been cut; a black-and-white sandpiper pecking along a catalpa seed pod; loosely woven pine needles; and chains woven of fibrous links. The collection’s value stems from its inherent flexibility; from new meanings found in ever-shifting dialogues.
Reinvigorated inanimate objects emerge as a theme throughout the exhibition. According to Momm, crisp, brown leaves are not lifeless; they have simply entered a “new stage in their evolution.” This reasoning provides the framework for Gleaner’s Song: The Ragged Beauty of Picked-Up Things, a group of 47 whimsical works on paper carried out between 2017 and 2020. Displayed against a chocolate-brown wall on short lengths of shelving, they present new life cycles of organic remnants: shards of bark, pine needles, leaves. In some works, Momm accentuated her subjects by applying delicate stitches of thread, which zip around and through forms like air or energy currents; in others, she restores torn corners or holes.
To the right of Gleaner’s Song, mounted in a corner of the gallery, is Weaving it all Together (Studio Scraps), ( 2019–2020)—a group of tapestry-like sculptures that emerged from creative acts of recycling. Three single ovoid weavings hang directly against the wall, while three weavings of vertically conjoined ovoids drop down from the ceiling. Together, they resemble a mass of roughly-hewn, brightly-colored cocoons. The work was motivated by Momm’s 2018 voyage to a remote area of Norway, which required travel by plane, bus, and ferry. Reflecting on her carbon footprint, Momm resolved to make new work exclusively using discarded materials from her studio: notes, sticks, bark, yarn, and coffee cup sleeves. Ultimately, Weaving it all Together announces the great possibilities of scavenging for art materials.
Beneath Insect Thoughts (2019–2020)—three, diminutive winged bugs, made from maple, keys, flowers, stems, twigs, and thread—hang a group of poems written by Momm, one of which is titled “Insects in the Morning”:
This morning / at my window/ a cluster of insects / lay silent—curled up/ after a long and valiant battle with the screen.// I set them to rest/ in a row/ to be measured—/ as in thought about looked upon and honored.// I don’t care if you think/ this is inconsequential…I am tired of/ hierarchical thinking.// Lean down low/ and they are giant.
Momm, who began writing poetry in response to the 2016 United States presidential election, here responds to much smaller traumas, encouraging viewers to acknowledge casualties in nature with the same empathy shown toward the struggles of fellow humans.
The daily walks through Central Park during which Momm collects her materials are also represented in the exhibition; While Walking, Central Park (2020) includes six and eight-inch square photographs interspersed throughout the gallery, depicting objects and events that captured her attention: silky white puffs escaping a milkweed pod, bulbous protrusions that transform tree trunks, a lone turtle perched atop a rock. Another series of photographs titled Emotional Guardrails (2020) pictures the weathered wooden posts and beams lining Central Park’s throughways, whose cross sections yield humorous characters with rusting bolts for eyes. Momm asks “You see them too, right? The faces all around us?”
Momm perceives the natural world to be profoundly populous and overwhelmingly alive. She implies that richness of experience is defined by the breadth of one’s curiosity. Above the gallery exit Momm installed a sign made of cardboard and twigs that reads “ENTER”; suggesting our personal journey into Central Park, hopefully with open eyes and minds, is just beginning.