So Meta: Please Come To My Party
Nicole Malcolm’s solo show Please Come To My Party is among the most “meta” exhibits we’ve seen in some time. At several levels it is a show about the artist’s life: Malcolm’s work is nostalgic, exploring her personal trajectory and sentiments. The exhibit draws partly on work made while she was a student at Ohio University, and partly on work from the last year and a half, which together represents the entirety of her adult life. On top of all that, the occasion for the show is her application to graduate programs in paper and book arts. It doesn’t simply survey her life for the last six or so years; it’s built to get her to the next stage.
The news in 2022 was steady with reasons for young people to be worried about the future. With the economy, the climate, and geopolitical concerns as a context, how can someone just out of college not look ahead and get depressed, or just want to crawl into a cocoon? The youthful sentiment in this show is a bit more timeless, having to do with appreciation for the freedom that comes with not yet having full responsibility for one’s own life. It’s said that youth is wasted on the young, because they don’t appreciate what they have. That does not seem to be the case here.
Malcolm’s newer works are her most ambitious. She has been working at the Morgan Conservatory lately, taking advantage of that context to make paper and learn techniques beyond its typical role as a surface. She’s also a 2022 recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant, with Morgan Artistic Director and founder Tom Balbo. Balbo is a master of cast paper and pulp painting, exploring different techniques to create relief, control fields of color, and more. In the most recent works, Malcolm has taken some of those techniques and applied them to her own ideas, and to this moment in her own evolution.
That is especially apparent in several pieces that relate to shelter. One—a small work called Protection, made in 2022 during a class at the Morgan—is a structure of handmade flax paper with inclusions from a bedspread, stretched around kozo sticks. Kozo trees are the variety of mulberry used to make an Asian style of paper. The bark is stripped from the sticks and boiled and to make a pulp. The remaining sticks don’t have a use in the paper-making process, but Malcolm has used them here to form the skeleton of a house. The inclusion of bits of bedding in the paper skin of the structure is nostalgic, and also heightens the house’s symbolism as a protective shelter for a person just starting out in life.
Two large installations—one from her final term at Ohio University, the other created during the apprenticeship with Tom Balbo—also evoke shelter. Please Come to My Party, a 15 X 10 X 11-foot installation in the form of a brick house, was made as part of the apprenticeship, and gives its title to the exhibit. It has walls made of cast and tinted paper pulp, a roof of pigmented abaca, and falling snow made from cotton pulp hung from monofilament. Inside are blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. The techniques show the remarkable versatility of paper, and its ability to mimic other material. The faux brick walls were made with paper casting technique from her apprenticeship. To create the relief and varied color of the bricks and mortar, she carved the pattern into sheets of foam insulation. The lines of relief controlled the brick- and sand-colored pigment.
The installation is reminiscent of a blanket fort. In her statement, Malcolm says it is dedicated to her friendships, and describes the feeling of being lost after college, and longing for the time and space to make relationships like the ones she remembers. It also highlights the urgency young people feel to have some security and find their place in the world.
That longing is present throughout the show. A second, slightly earlier installation also evokes shelter, and also invites comparison to a blanket fort. The Places You Pass, dated 2021—the year she graduated college—defines its 8 X 10 X 11 foot space with sheets of Tyvek, screen printed with an abstract pattern slightly evocative of a starry sky. Inside are sheets of paper that seem to be blowing in the wind or falling from the sky, printed with lyrics from a song, written with a friend from her college years. There are headphones from which the song plays, and a journal to read, and a blanket for use “if you want to get cozy sifting through the memories.”
Earlier works also put her own life on view, with a combination of nostalgia, vulnerability, and objectification. Long Distance Calling embodies all three: it’s a one-of-a-kind, mixed media artist book about her first big break-up with a boyfriend, during her freshman in college. The pages include emotional writing, painting and drawing on hand-made paper, and even a hand-written note slipped in a little pocket. She says she has shown the book repeatedly in the years since, and what was once monumentally heartbreaking has become an object she can laugh about and talk about easily.
There’s also an entire wall dedicated to a photo-based installation documenting the artist’s quotidian life in her dorm room. There are 75 photos of her, doing laundry and other daily routines. If Long Distance Calling documents a landmark moment, all these are the drive-by seconds of a day, individually forgettable, but together documenting a place and time that played a significant role in her life so far.
One takeaway from the show is that the artist is proficient in a multitude of techniques, each in their turn employed in longing for childhood, wondering where it went, and where life will take the artist next. A linocut shows the point of view of two friends, looking down at their sneakered feet. A reduction woodcut asks: Where will home be? In a screen print on handmade abaca paper, titled The Art of Daydreaming, a woman who looks rather like the artist wonders in a thought bubble “what will happen next.” If Malcolm has her way, the next thing will be the grad school of her dreams.
Nicole Malcolm: Please Come To My Party
December 3, 2022 – January 20, 2023
1300 West 78th Street, Cleveland