Alyssa Lempesis’s Dark Gallery
“So, you like to touch weird things?”
“I do like to touch weird things.”
I arrive at Aggregate Space Gallery in West Oakland on a Wednesday night, nauseous. I’d cancelled my studio visit last weekend with Bay Area artist Alyssa Lempesis because of food poisoning, and my stomach is still tied up in knots. But within the nausea, I think of Alyssa’s works. Her sculptures and videos dance fluidly between disgust and pleasure, conjuring forms that looks like innards, sea life and other organic material. I was reminded of how arbitrary our bodies are — how they accept, reject, and do as they please.
Alyssa and I meet outside the nondescript building, and she leads me into a dark, expansive gallery. The lights are off and I am immediately disoriented and transported. We exchange introductions and walk over to her Keurig machine. It aggressively shoots out coffee from the spout, sputtering its last dregs into a Styrofoam cup.
I lean on the wall and look at her. Because of her bold artwork, I’d envisioned a more angsty-looking artist, but she seems shy and speaks gently and genuinely, with an easy comfort. She’s younger than I thought. And I like her boots. They look sturdy and are randomly studded with paint marks. Alyssa tells me that she substitute-teaches eighth grade history on the side and that it’s been a rough few days because of the recent election.
She then leads the way up to her studio upstairs. Across the thick darkness, my eyes make out a large, wooden table stacked with art supplies and hardware tools. Lofted on top of the gallery rests her studio, a haven of light. As we go up the stairs, I spot a semi-finished bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. “That must come in handy, huh?” She nervously mumbles a response and laughs; I silently kick myself.
Alyssa turns on a portable heater for us and I sit dangerously close to her piece, Flick, a leg made out of plaster. As I reach back to retrieve my phone from my bag, my hands graze its attached, coral-like tentacles. They sparkle in forgiving response, and I am reminded of this fantastical world that Alyssa creates.
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