A few hours after Sea Level opened it was stepped on. Though that is hardly unusual for contemporary art—several installations have been mistaken for trash and thrown away—Christine Wallers's sculpture shouldn't be hard to miss. The piece is 24 feet by 16.5 feet, constructed from thousands of wires and nails, and situated in the middle of Suyama Space. How then does someone overlook the bed of wires hovering above the gallery floor and step on it? Easy. Wallers, long concerned with light phenomena, built Sea Level to be evasive.
As the light changes, Sea Level builds an intangible presence from the sources of illumination around it. With the warm gallery lights on, the wire's finely gauged hairs act like a glaze over the old warehouse floor, picking up golden tones while simultaneously disappearing into the weathered wood. Without the artificial overheads lights, the piece takes on all the qualities its name suggests. Silver pools collect on the wires and a wet, cold plane appears to float above the floor.
As Sea Level's colors and shapes change with the light, so too does its significance. When the illusion of standing water is most precise, Sea Level evokes flood planes and rising water levels. Given the recent state of New Orleans, these associations are easy to make. But when the lights are on, Sea Level resembles a meticulously built musical instrument (think strings), not a vaporous, watery surface.
That Sea Level can evoke such opposing associations is testimony to how responsive Wallers's sculpture is. It also raises a question: Why the specific title? Sea Level changes because of its environment. One morning it is a puddle of water filling up a gallery, on another it is something to strum. Whatever the case, that the title should dictate the experience seems at odds with the sculpture's shifting qualities. My advice? Ignore the name and enjoy Sea Level for more than its watery qualities. Just don't step on it.