Frisson City

Canada is pleased to present Frisson City, Lee Relvas’s first exhibition with the gallery. Relvas’s series of wall works and sculptures on pedestals are comprised of sanded-down segments of construction-grade plywood that the artist joins together with epoxy putty, a home improvement paste that is commonly used to fix leaky pipes. Under Relvas’s labored care, the sculptures evoke skeletal creatures with stories to tell, further animated with other utilitarian objects found in the home, such as erasers, earplugs, rubber bands, watches, and money. Relvas spends hours in the studio cutting, sanding, and suturing her figures, transforming the most basic of household materials into dynamic forms in motion. “I like the idea of exerting massive amounts of energy into something so ordinary and disposable.” In her exhaustive work to plot her figures into existence, Relvas overlays the realm of the everyday with tactility, sensation, and theater, making it into a dream-like, carnivalesque space.

Relvas created the plywood structures on pedestals, the scale and content of which evoke dollhouses, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, a reflection of this period when “the “whole city was full of frisson.” Navigating New York City was a tentative, often terrifying experience that also contained within it feelings of rapture and release: “it was like my body suddenly acquired a whole new signaling system — a porous forcefield constantly jangling with those of other bodies, other surfaces.” In one sculpture, the central human form teeters precariously in medias res, balancing atop outstretched lengths of wood that appear like snakes or matches, pencil erasers affixed to their tops. The wooden outline of a track, fastened throughout with slats made of bits of dollar bills quilted together, ribbons its way up and around the tower into a crash of cash and bones at its peak. In another, the small human figure is again at the center of a lantern-like edifice, this time crouched in a pose of protective surrender, as tangles of fingers threaten to enclose upon it, rings of money underlining the scene. Relvas’s choice to use dollar bills in her work was prompted by receiving pandemic-related unemployment benefits: “a little raft of money to bob along on in this weird new landscape  — regular income I’d never gotten as an artist. The more I worked with money, which is this particular blend of cotton and linen, touching it, sewing it, the more fictional it became. But simultaneously, I could never dismiss the real value of money — by trying to make work about its power, I was doing something halfway between self-indulgence and self-sabotage. So it was a relief to figure out that, in the formal sense, the money worked in the sculptures the same way it worked in my life: a little goes a long way.”

If the free-floating sculptures act as small theaters, the human scale of the wall works, which Relvas refers to en masse as “The Peanut Gallery,” playfully brings the viewer into a theater-in-the-round. Each life-size structure is pegged to the wall with two long limbs of wood, which grow up and out into floating cubist faces, their puppet mouths in mid-chatter. Relvas brings life to humble objects: hanging rounds of red and green rubber bands suggest cartoonish eyes, while erasers hanging from a uterine V at the sculptures’ chest suggest the heart or other organs. With Frisson City, Relvas has created a dreamspace of the everyday shot through with drama and frisson, which the artist defines as a “shiver up your spine.” “The reason why I love sculpture is because I love making something real to be in the world with me. It’s not like looking into a window of a world. It’s in the world, with you.”

Lee Relvas (b. 1981, Boston) is an artist, writer, and musician in New York. A recipient of the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant and the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program residency, she has had solo shows at Callicoon Fine Arts in New York City and Artist Curated Projects in Los Angeles. She has also exhibited and performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Hammer Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, Art in General, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, among other galleries and institutions. Her work has been written about in The New York Times, The New Yorker, ArtForum, Art in America, The Comics Journal, and The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. Her fiction has been published in BOMB Magazine and Joyland Magazine, and she has contributed articles to ArtForum and Cultured Magazine. As a singer and composer, Relvas has released six solo albums of music, and currently records under the moniker Rind.

– Written by Svetlana Kitto