In Like Liquid, Cut Loose, a new exhibition at Well Well Projects featuring works by Morgan Rosskopf and a sound installation by Ashlin Aronin, the art is submerged in a simulated grotto of undulating ultraviolet light and swirling, trippy sounds. For anybody prone to sensory overload, spending a long period of time in the space could be exhausting, but if you're up for it, the reward is a labyrinth of hidden treasures, appropriated images, and glowing interstices that feels like a theme park for inhabitants of a warming ocean.
We entered the show through a short hall connecting Well Well Projects to neighboring gallery Oregon Contemporary, which created the impression we were walking into some sort of enchanted cave.
Well Well's entire space was illuminated by a lavender cast of blacklight, punctuated by a rotating novelty light fixture installed in a corner of the ceiling. The result was a surprisingly effective imitation of light reflecting off rippling water, resembling a tide pool in moonlight. Reflective butterfly decals on the floor scattered the light further, and added another layer of visual disorientation.
"In some ways the show is a statement about the ungovernability of water, the way it defies our human attempts to control its movements," Aronin wrote about his 4-channel sound composition, which shares its title with the show. The 40-minute loop washed sound waves off the hard surfaces of the gallery, transitioning between soothing watery passages and harsher, more discordant dead channel hums.
With all that stimuli, it took a moment to acclimate and turn our attention to Rosskopf’s work: mixed media collages on paper, hung on the walls and from the ceiling in the center of the gallery’s main room.
Rosskopf uses blacklight-reactive fluorescent paints to outline shapes that range from recognizable—like the butterfly I first spied on the floor—to abstract. The shapes often frame several more offset layers of imagery and pattern to create an overall visual texture. Irregular holes perforate the surface of the paper like burst air bubbles in wet sand or the delicate infrastructure of coral.
The works are hung a couple of inches away from the wall by rods of neon-colored acrylic, and upon closer inspection, their day-glo painted reverse sides also shine though, in the form of reflected light.
If these works sound complicated, it’s because they are. Rosskopf is a self-declared maximalist, and I got the sense that there's potential in her practice for even more complexity—as though these pieces were the result of self-restraint.
The lighting scheme ironically muted some of the work's impact, when compared to images of the works in regular lighting, and I wished I could flip a switch and experience their full range of chaotic appeal. As it was, Rosskopf’s work in Like Liquid, Cut Loose was inextricable from its surroundings, which is perhaps part of the point.
The exhibition text went a lot of places, but centered around the theme of water, specifically our oceans and the mess we’ve made of them. Within this context, Rosskopf’s recurring use of the ubiquitous plastic “THANK YOU” bag and the artificial hyper-pop colors throughout the show have a sort of wacky poignancy.
In juxtaposition with the reef-like paper forms and the general feeling I got of being plunged into an '80s goldfish bowl, Like Liquid, Cut Loose reminded me of recent news reports about the devastating reach of marine microplastic pollution. As I exited the gallery, I felt like I was stepping off a ride, delivered back to the real world with a strange afterglow of what the artists dub “warm-hearted apocalyptic acceptance.”