, Newburyport, MA

March 28, 2014

Body, mind and art

Installation at Beverly gallery offers a twist on exercise

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — “Live-work,” at 17 Cox gallery in Beverly, is a work of art that is also a workout for both the body and mind.

Created by Amy Archambault, who teaches art at the College of the Holy Cross, the installation looks like a cross between a jungle gym and an architectural model.

“I was thinking about that gallery as a work space,” Archambault said. “I took ‘work’ as ‘working out,’ and took this twist on exercise.”

Occupying a corner of the gallery, “Live-work” consists of several platforms ascending like stairs in a space defined by a window, door, ladder and some curved sections of wall.

They are structures we use to define the spaces we live in, but they are arranged in a way that makes you wonder what this particular space is for.

“With the window, there’s a question of whether I am in the interior or exterior,” Archambault said. “I like creating this kind of confusion in the viewer.”

An adjoining platform, shaped like a bed, invites visitors to lie down and watch a version of an exercise video playing above it on the ceiling.

Archambault clustered these elements together in a way that she hopes will tempt the viewer to sit, lie or climb on and through them, defining its use in the process.

“This is the first interactive work I’ve done,” Archambault said. “People do want to touch and participate. It’s a space that invites the viewer to participate, with different levels of engagement.”

Archambault played lacrosse at Holy Cross as an undergraduate, before studying studio art at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2011.

Her athletic ability is applied in her installations, which were partly inspired by the work of another athletic artist, Matthew Barney.

“He was an athlete, and he was exploring his body,” Archambault said. “The work I was looking at was called ‘Drawing Restraint.’

“He was creating an obstacle course. He was trying to make a drawing, and has a system he rigged up to challenge the idea of making a drawing.”

Archambault, who started graduate school as a painter, created a harness to restrict her movements as she painted, turning the act of creation into a physical struggle.

“I created a harness that hooked up to a doorway behind me,” she said. “It would pull me, it was strapped on my arms and legs.”

The paintings she created while working in the restraint looked a lot like the installations she would eventually make in three dimensions.

“I became more interested in the material than the image, and that’s why I left painting,” she said.

While “Life-work” is Archambault’s first interactive work, her other installations serve more like stage sets that she explores alone, sometimes while suspended in a harness.

“They’re performances that go with those structures,” she said. “The work of art is the performance, and physical activation of the site.”

At first, she choreographed her movements around these works but eventually started improvising each performance.

“I’m trying to see how it contorts my body as I move through it,” she said. “It’s almost a surveilling of the structure and space while traveling through it.”

The structures look like exercise machines for a sport whose nature, and rules, have yet to be explained.

They are made of plywood, 2-by-4s, bungee cords, milk crates and anything else that grabs Archambault’s imagination while she walks through Home Depot.

“There are no screws, it’s all modular, and held together by carriage bolts and straps,” she said. “Which is exciting, because they move when I perform on them.”

The aesthetic qualities of the materials Archambault assembles are also important, as are the forms in which she combines them, with intersecting lines, planes and colors.

“It’s a painting in space as much as it is something for people to interact with,” she said.

The installations begin as sketches in a notebook and are meant to provide new uses for abandoned sites that were previously used for storage or manufacturing.

Archambault’s installations also suggest a spirit of play, and a type of imagination, that we all knew in childhood.

“When I was a child, I would love to put pillows on the floor and pretend that the carpet was a moat,” Archambault said. “There’s this childhood play thing happening. It’s a response to playing in the space, bringing something to a site that doesn’t have anything going on.

“They’re pretty intuitive. It’s like a Lego set for adults.”

If you go

What: “Live-work,” installation by Amy Archambault

When: Through Thursday, April 3. Gallery hours Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m., or by appointment. Closing reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on April 3.

Where: 17 Cox gallery, 17 Cox Court, Beverly

More information: 978-712-8858 or