Wish Fulfillment

1207582406_c456cce5d6On an overcast Tuesday afternoon, when the traffic from the nearby 10 and 405 freeways is just starting to pack in, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica looks and feels more like an industrial depot center than one of Los Angeles’s prime gallery  hubbubs, and local art-dealer hot-spot of international acclaim. The parking lot if half-empty. Lonesome employees rumble by with crates full of water-cooler jugs. Sporadic patrons drift in and out of massive gallery spaces. On the whole, the place seems cold, even uninviting.

That is unless you accidentally stumble into the hallway of the Santa Monica Museum of Art—denoted only by a metallic sign that says “Museum”—and find yourself wondering what all the small, clay objects are doing strung up on the wall, as if hanging from massive, marker sketches of keys, backpacks, doorknobs, and necklaces. It’s this quaint collection of colorful figurines which, from first sight, breathes humanity into an otherwise blue atmosphere. For good reason too: every ornament on the wall is made by an artist below the age of 18—mainly ranging from 5-years-old to 10.

It’s called Wall Works: Project Icons and is the brainchild of clay and found-object artist Anna Sew Hoy. In collaboration with SMMA and six participating schools from around the Los Angeles area, Hoy asked children from kindergarten through 12th grade to describe their personal wishes, and transform them into pocket-sized “talismans” to help visualize their fulfillment. The wishes themselves, as written in the kids’ own handwriting, and paired with photographs of their corresponding talismans, can be viewed in conjunction with the exhibition. And all it takes is a quick glance at one or two of these wishes to get you digging through them like a treasure chest filled with jewels of innocent brilliance.

“I wish for a talking star to play with me,” writes Karina, who’s  yellow clay star sports sunglasses and a full rack of teeth.

“I had a limen tree so I can have limen juice,” says Megan. And no, this is not simply poor spelling, because Megan’s talisman is neither a lemon nor a lime. Not yellow nor green. It’s in between. It’s a limen. Why no sports drink has come up with this word combination before is beyond me.

It’s interesting: most of the younger kids’ wishes have to deal with fruit, or animals, mice in particular. And the pocket icons they create to represent these wishes are all courageously distorted versions of reality—imperfect, and yet lovely. Only when the children and their respective handwriting grow older, more refined, do the wishes become more realistic and abstract at the same time. Earnestness and anxiety replace playfulness.

“To be good at soccer,” one boy announces. “To be a better basketball player.” “To have a bigger garden.” “To be an architect.” Most all are sports and career related, with the occasional plea for world peace thrown in the mix. The older kids’ clay talismans also become more defined and mimetic, while losing some of the accidental whimsy of of their younger counterparts.

Extrapolating the results—or at least my observations—of Hoy’s project into the greater art-world, I can see how a place like Bergamot Station can seem so cold, the warm humor of its art lost in the jumble of warehouses and parking spaces. It’s the fulfillment of those older childens’ wishes for bigger and better things taking over the goofy vitality of those younger, fruit-and-mouse wishes.

And yet still, when you look at the wall of hanging talismans, they all pretty much look alike, old and young together. Each one the subject of natural distortion—due to the imperfect nature of clay-work—and each one something more than just a good luck charm. They are tactile. You can feel the wishes with your fingers. You can see it. It’s not just an airy idea. It’s a creation.

Anna Sew Hoy’s Wall Works: Project Icons can be viewed at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in Bergamot Station until May 31. For more information, please visit www.smmoa.org, or call (310) 586-6488.

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