Halle Ballard’s Insider at Elephant Gallery in Nashville consists of large drawings and paper mache sculptures. Each of the works in Ballard’s show contain at least one big person and a multitude of much smaller people. I estimate the small people are between 1:8 and 1:16 the size of big people and I theorize the big people are mothers to the small people. One work is titled Sad Mom Swim Club. Yet, the reproduction pictured represented is not human reproduction. It’s more like that of a spider, wherein hundreds of offspring burst from a single sac, already energetic. However, sometimes the big person has a big baby or babies with them, as in Flood or Mama Boys. The big babies challenge my theory.
Flood is a midsize work on brown paper depicting a town in crisis. In her organization of the town, Ballard presents a sweetly funny representation of how the world works. Behind a line of mountains is a strip mall with a McDonald’s, a sports store, and a florist. There’s parking and a single street that leads to the homes. Water flows from a round port on the belly of a giant person whose eyes are being shielded by a baby. The person appears to be the town’s water tower; they have a ladder running up their leg and a walkway with a railing around their middle. In the bottom right corner of Flood, water is splashing against a house frame, breaking one side of the frame away. Five people are sitting on the top beam holding a rope attached to the breakaway face, pulling it back towards the home. I am drawn to the tension and people moving in unison. It resembles a barn raising, and I like scenes of agrarian strain.
I question: How bad is this calamity? I think, ‘not so bad’ because I can see the faces of almost everyone. They just don’t seem to be experiencing a private horror. Remarkably, the only things oriented towards the people, and not towards the viewer, are the words ‘public pool’ which are mirrored backwards. It is as though you came upon a disturbed ant hill, and all the ants were agitated and moving around. But the ants are all somehow facing you, moving like they’re in a musical.
The form of Skatepark, a sculpture, is beautiful like a sphinx. It is suspended by hooks on its butt and shoulders, and it is wrapped in tan-toned paper mache. The sculpture’s fore and rear are divided by a hollow halfpipe, and its calves, forearms, and the backs of its hands are slathered with cement. Sad Mom Swim Club features a paper mache body form with a bowl of resin for its belly. The bowl is bordered by tiny blue bricks, laid into a miniature, sloppy stone wall. Tiny people swim in the bowl, lots of them. The word is ‘teeming.’ They are mosquito larvae in a dog bowl with pink butts—excellent.
Looking at the face of Playground, a large sculptural figure, I don’t feel much. However, the big person really shines in the drawing Mama Boys. The big person breastfeeds and blocks big babies wearing football helmets. This scene takes place at dusk, and the white dots on the cell tower make the hour hum. This work asks, “What time of day are people the nuttiest?”
I am breathless from describing all of the action in Ballard’s show. I devote little time to considering the formal qualities of the work, because I am so exhausted by all the activity.