Walker Tufts’ Satellites & Salamanders IV at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, Highlands

By February 10, 2024
Installation view of Satellites & Salamanders IV by Walker Tufts. Photograph by and courtesy of The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, Highlands, North Carolina.

Housed in a spacious, warm, rustic attic of the Bascom Art Center, Satellites & Salamanders IV by Walker Tufts is a site of odd introspection and comforting familiarity.  The extensive installation includes an assortment of domestic and found materials such as dresser drawers, key rings, and replicas of pillows. Perhaps more striking, two 1:1 models of trapezoidal satellite components, converted into a bedroom, greenhouse, and rock climbing wall. Tufts merges an intimate and yet almost sterile presentation of works with a farcical playfulness. Seeing the show is like visiting an eccentric distant cousin. The exhibition explores a slew of contestatory binaries that ultimately create an “anti-self-portrait”.

Like some futuristic Live/work/play module of a spacecraft, Tuft’s gives plurality to his satellite structures, humorously named Tom2 & Jerry2. Referred to as, “an escape pod Tom2 contains a bed, and a small garden for “air purified by NASA approved plants”. According to Tufts extensive notes (also on display), Jerry2, which resembles a rock climbing wall “confuses climbing with crawling”. The exterior of Tom2 is covered in blankets mimicking a solar panel. It is sculpture in drag, presenting and accentuating its own absurdity. On the other end of the Tom2, the cold glow of hydroponic light emanates. Various plants are hooked up to IV’s and sacks of water hanging from carabiners. It is mash-up of homy-ness and sterility, as if Tuft’s life were one big science experiment.

Installation view of Satellites & Salamanders IV by Walker Tufts. Photograph by and courtesy of The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, Highlands, North Carolina.

The experiment-like quality of the show is reinforced through FACE PLANTa video installation with a suspended tv hanging facedown toward mirrors that allow viewers to watch Tufts, dressed in all white, caress dirt from a picnic basket. He seems to be a scientist working in a laboratory, moving a solution of dirt and water between beakers and flasks. It might appear technical to some, given the environment of the lab and its equipment, but the more one watches, the theatricality of it becomes apparent. Distilling the dirt into a liquid spray bottle, the artist returns to the field where the soil was originally excavated, sprays themselves with the solution, and proceeds tolay facedown, their head now occupying the excavation hole. Acknowledging the often-overlooked actors, Tufts lists in the full scientific names of several bacteria found in soil at the end of the video. Credited to Dad’s Own Bell, the work is set to an entrancing score of piano, accordion, and whooshing synths that loop continuously and fill the space. It feels almost maniacal if it wasn’t so endearing and buoyant in execution.

On the far end of the gallery stands Jerry2, positioned vertically, with bits of what look like transparent rock-climbing hand holdsattached along it. Upon closer inspection, I recognized a grouping of toes and realize that sections of bodies were cast, abstracted, and mounted. Tufts again mounts the body on otherworldly structure. Directly behind the rock-climbing wall but still within the structure are paper replicas of pillows cracked open, bisected with branches erupting through them from Ziploc bags of soil and moist with condensation. 

Installation view of Satellites & Salamanders IV by Walker Tufts. Photograph by and courtesy of The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, Highlands, North Carolina.

On either side of the rock-climbing wall are arrangements of dresser drawers stacked in pyramid formations, each drawer framing a printed collage. The collages display American flag patterned garments, heather gray sweats, and bleach-stainedfabrics. Is this a play on airing out dirty laundry? Cut into each collage are word pairing that seem to fit into an obvious binariesbut begin to slide toward interpretations. The logic is clear when pairing words like “HARD / SOFT” or ”IN / OUT” together, but then others such as, “WHOLENESS / DECADENCE” and “EXPRESSION / PENALTY,” offer more questions than conclusions. Tufts attempts to acknowledge the failure of binaries, slowly subverting them instead. Words like “IN /OUT,” appear to be opposites but in reality, are dependent oncontext. We can think of it quite physically, but it also lends itself to the implications of being “in” and “out” in terms of queer identities, which Tufts touches upon with another set of words reading:

ADVERTISEMENT

HETERO

OMOH

SEXUAL

This exhibition is rich in material and reference, but with the sensibility of an alien trying to comprehend and reconstruct thehuman experience. Tufts takes bits and pieces of domesticity and the natural environment, extracting both conceptual and physical aspects, in order to study and reassemble them. This bizarre but enchanting exhibition reaffirms the transcendent reality of existence.

Installation view of Satellites & Salamanders IV by Walker Tufts. Photograph by and courtesy of The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, Highlands, North Carolina.

Satellites & Salamanders IV by Walker Tufts is on view at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, Highlands, North Carolina through May 11, 2024.

Related Stories

Jack Whitten: An Artist’s Life

Art21 x Burnaway
“I can build anything I want to build. I’m not a narrative painter. I don’t do the idea or the painting being the illustration of an idea, I don’t do that. It’s all about the materiality of the paint,” notes the late Jack Whitten. In February's Art21 x Burnaway feature, we pay homage to the Alabama-born artist's fifty-year career and ingenuity for invention.

Call for Artists: February 2024

Call For Artists
Our monthly round of opportunities includes an open call for digital commissions based out of Miami, a visual arts prize for work rooted in the American South, and a grant fund for black women photographers.