On Random Walks and Chance Encounters 

by Christina Schmid, PhD

Two artists hold one piece of rope, dipped in ink: dragged across a piece of paper, the rope leaves traces of an intimate calligraphy, each mark borne from the invisible quiver of hands. A slow, careful diligence animates each gesture. Since their first meeting at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yu-Wen Wu and Harriet Bart have been exploring the art of collaboration, a delicate choreography of actions and materials, hovering between the premeditated and spontaneous.

Their month-long residency at the Project Space of the Minnesota Museum for American Art, "Random Walks and Chance Encounters," started with a small vocabulary of objects and moving images. An undulating line of crushed glass on a 50-foot strip of velvety black brought the river's ice-ridden spring currents and languid twists into the gallery, a tribute to the vein of water first responsible for drawing people to this place, St. Paul. From the shard river's mouth, digitally projected images and text fragments rise, evoking seasonal change, lunar cycles, and architecture of regional renown.

Thus located, the artists set out to map experiences of place and tend to its intertwining cultural, geological, and personal histories. Their random walks draw invisible lines through city streets. On the gallery walls, complex constellations of dots and lines trace the paths chosen, like arcane musical scores that transform experience into a minimalist notation of movement.

How do we know a place? A thicket of naturalists' loupes dangles from the ceiling, as if at the ready to magnify the minute. From intimate proximity to expansive ambience, the artists record and represent perceptions of the near and far. Their wandering transcends literal movement, too: a rather thoroughly deconstructed copy of Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost provides a topography of prose-covered pages, folded into ridges and carefully excised circular pools. Text becomes landscape; the city beyond the gallery walls text.

Place is a variable in Wu and Bart's creative inquiries. They court encounters that distill into objects that in turn harbor experience: a rock, its striated surface ground smooth by the river; strips of discarded wood, their curves and nubs the residue of an absent object. Together, the artifacts assembled in "Random Walks and Chance Encounters" over the course of the residency point to something immaterial. They may conjure what is familiar about a place but ultimately with-hold any answers: Something about conveying the lived experience of place proves elusive and lingers only in the elegant periphery of the barely-there and hinted-at. 

Photos © Yu-Wen Wu and Rik Sferra 2015