Artist Holly Wilson constructs the ideal quarantine room

Andy Downing
Part of the "Attractive Nuisances" exhibit at 934 Gallery

Artist and Columbus native Holly Wilson started constructing the pieces that will populate her new installation well before the pandemic hit, but the work has taken on a different context in the weeks since much of the country has been placed under some type of shelter at home order.

“Before the coronavirus, I always had this obsessive, hoarding thing with my art. But because most of the things I collect are from the past … that nostalgia I feel is taking on a whole new meaning,” said Wilson, whose exhibit, “Attractive Nuisances,”opens both virtually and in-person at 934 Gallery at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 7 (appointments for a 20-minute, in-person viewingcan be made here; the gallery allows a maximum of 10 occupants in the space at a time and masks are required). “It’s almost like these objects are reminding you of what things used to be like, almost like a warning. … The artwork has become this sort of measure of what goes on in your head when you’re trapped for months.”

Each piece of furniture created for the space has a dreamy, unnatural quality, owing in part to its invented multifunctional nature. Wilson works with found and collected materials, occasionally combining them with polyurethane foam, which can make some creations come across like alien organisms that have gradually absorbed these eclectic objects from the world around them. Other pieces are more machinelike, bolted, screwed, welded and otherwise combined and manipulated into wild new forms.

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The bed, for instance, which Wilson described as one “you never have to get out of,” has been rigged with multiple mirrors, a hairbrush, shaving implements, a trashcan, a scale, a portable stove, a shower head and more. A tableside lamp has likewise been retrofitted to increase its functionality, with Wilson attaching a radio, a teacup and various extension cords, among other ephemera. The artist created another piece of functional decor by purchasing seven Ikea mirrors, which she then deconstructed, reassembling the various parts and pieces along with toothbrush holders, shaving brushes and so on.

“For another of the new pieces, I found all of these medicine cabinets and I modified them to where there are almost these robot arms coming off the wall that can hold attachments,” Wilson said. “One [hand] could hold a mirror, another a cell phone— all the different things a person might need to go on Instagram Live. … It almost feels like it could be a staging place for somebody as they’re trapped.”

Fittingly, Wilson has constructed, updated and refined the exhibit while living under stay at home orders in Syracuse, New York, where she owns an art gallery, Apostrophe’s. The plan was to pack the various parts and pieces for the installation into the artist’s Ford Transit van and then make the drive from Syracuse to Columbus a day or two before the opening. “I have to strap some stuff to the top of my car, which is kind of hilarious,” Wilson said. “It’ll look pretty funny when I’m on the freeway, for sure.”

The artist estimated that she could reassemble the seven pieces comprising the exhibit at 934 in less than a day, though she left enough time to make additional thrift store runs the following morning if the installation felt as though it needed to be more fully fleshed out, aiming to make the experience as immersive as possible for viewers.

“In a traditional gallery, you put your work up on a pedestal or whatever … but I want this to look more like a realistic bedroom, or maybe not realistic, but like a bedroom in a dreamworld,” said Wilson, noting that the effect should be enhanced by social distancing regulations, which will limit the number of attendees able to enter the space, giving it a more escapist feel. 

At the same time, Wilson said that creating this isolated quarantine world has further reminded her of the importance of community and hands-on experience.

“[Whether I’m] presenting something or seeing an art exhibit or going to a concert, something about doing that in person is amazing to me,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if you’ve watched a concert on Zoom or anything, but it’s not that great. I’m hoping people can walk in [to the exhibit] and have some of that experience we’ve been lacking.”