In her imaginative sculptures, Amy Landesberg explores the boundaries between nature and artifice, life and nonliving systems, and uncanny objects in general. “Things Grow Hair,” at Berry College’s Moon Gallery in Rome, Georgia through April 13, is her most recent iteration of the interstitial, or the intersectional, or the in-between, as a recent anthropology textbook terms it.
Actually, the objects at Berry might be considered cases of the comic uncanny. Each one is a different take on what would happen if a commonplace discarded object (half of a tape dispenser, for example, or a small circuit board) became living beings in the process of decay. By her lights, they would grow unruly hair in the process of degeneration, and this anomalous growth serves as a metaphor for the growing uncertainty of the boundary between life and non-life in the biological sciences and in robotics, among other fields.
The exhibition bodies forth the hard-won outcome of Landesberg’s fantasy: the hair hand-inserted (by Landesberg or assistant Molly O’Shaughnessy) into the follicle-like openings of a shoe insert or the false eyelashes woven into a circuit board, with magnifying glass attached to view the barely visible results.
The 27 objects, which range from a Kong dog toy to “grandpa John’s magnifying pane,” are attached to the tops of metal stems inserted into blocks made from a concrete that resembles the texture of granite. The simultaneous resemblance to flowers and to specimens on display in a natural history museum reinforces the systematic uncertainty of these bizarrely singular objects, each with its own peculiar way of growing hair. The magnifying pane, for example, sprouts long locks of actual human hair, while a roller cover, rotated slowly by a concealed internal motor, shows off synthetic tufts of blonde hair extensions.
The level of comedy versus uncanniness varies widely according to the shape of the object and the nature of the hair involved. A mail sorter’s hair growth feels more messily arbitrary than the shock of synthetic brown hair bursting forth from the end of a length of PVC drainpipe or the artificial ponytail protruding from an “unidentified metal part.” The human curl integrated into the makeup brush is well nigh perfect.
Jerry Cullum is a freelance curator and critic living in Atlanta. His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of local and national publications, including Art Papers and Art in America.