Monica Canilao, What Is Lost Is Safe, at Sky High Gallery
A local call for lace, quilts, doilies, and/or bones results in a one-of-a-kind installation
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Two weeks ago, Sky High Gallery curator Faythe Levine put out a call on her blog for a strange assortment of donations. The list included lace, quilts, doilies, bones, chair and table rungs, plywood, and cans of spray paint. Contributions from Milwaukeeans were collected in excess for the long-anticipated return of Oakland, California artist Monica Canilao and her exhibition What Is Lost Is Safe, opening Friday at Sky High Gallery.
Since Canilao arrived less than a week ago, the piles of donations have been sorted, the collection expanded through back-alley exploration and dumpster diving, and the items used to build a fabricated environment on which to hang the more detailed studio pieces brought from Oakland. “I only made a loose plan when I came here, because I rely mostly on what I find and what comes my way,” explains Canilao. “One of the points of doing local installations is that almost everything I’m using is found in the city I’m making it in. It references where I am.”
“There’s no point in sitting around wondering what to do in a space like this,” further explains Harrison, Canilao’s assistant and collaborator. “It’s somewhat free-form, but we come with a few ideas, and we seek out things that fit that aesthetic. When we get here and find things that are along those lines, we build the base structure from that.”
Addressing themes of home and community, Canilao’s work is stunning to see. The layering effect she creates by found-object collage is interesting formally, but she’s also concerned with the complexity of each item’s collected history. The juxtaposition of embellished antique photographs, sticks and tattered textiles, human hair, and small bits of ephemera produces an intimate way of expressing a lost communal history that was discarded by the original owner and then found again by Canilao. The individual studio pieces will be hung within the installation environment, which acts as an elaborate extension of the individual pieces.
Levine curated a show of Canilao’s work nearly four years ago at the now defunct Paper Boat Boutique And Gallery, but the current exhibition was conceived on a much larger scale. “It was definitely wild to have Monica and Harrison show up and bring literally truckloads of what most people would consider garbage, and then within a 24-hour time period, see a basic framework of an amazing, magical environment unfolding in the gallery space,” explains Levine. “She will work up until the show opens, hanging and tweaking little teeny threads and small bits—the little things that I think make her work so exceptional. I’m really looking forward to spending three months with this installation.”
The opening reception for What Is Lost Is Safe is Friday from 6-10 p.m., and will also feature the unveiling of the newest edition of Sky High’s Temporary Mural Project, created by Parachute Project’s Makeal Flammini and Ella Dwyer. The mural will be viewable from Howell Avenue on the east-facing, outside wall of the shop.