Surveying Desire XV: Overtures is a lightweight, piquant, interactive installation at the James Watrous Gallery (Overture Center, through Jan. 19). Green Bay artist Carol Emmons explores our contemporary search for companionship as filtered through the personals:
"LTR-minded SM, 59, 6' 195, seeks nice-looking SWF, 25-50, H/W proportionate."
One gallery wall is draped with long, white, filmy curtains stenciled with hundreds of these abbreviated messages. Is it an accident that curtain fabric like this used to be called "illusion"? Probably not; Emmons uses several retro found objects to construct this enigmatic museum experience.
There's a phone bank that features old rotary-dial phones (with headsets for eavesdropping) and electric clocks all connected by loops of wire to little switchboxes. The clocks, which range in retro style from your parents' bedside alarm to the gilded sunburst from over their fireplace, have all stopped. Is time for that big romance running out?
Pick up a phone and listen in: "Do you like to cook, clean, wash pickup trucks and polish Harleys?" "Soul-mate wanted DBCF, 48, ISO D/SBCM 50-60 6', who loves the Lord." "Seeking man to paint my nails." As someone remarks in the gallery comment book: "So many familiar voices."
Wall text tells us Emmons is interested in the nature of longing and the fallibility of apparatuses of romance. At the center of the gallery, she offers a clinical little cubical - floored and tiled in institutional green - with a stool that invites us to sit down facing a wall. Are we being examined? There's a small grilled opening in the wall and maybe a speaking tube. Is this a visit to a prison, or perhaps a confessional?
Everyone has fooled around with writing a personal at one time or another, flummoxed by that problem of how to succinctly describe our shining parts while planting clever hints about our hoped-for response. Emmons is tapping into a widely shared experience, and perhaps this is the "interactive" element in her construction.
Surveying Desire XV suggests a few dark reflections but doesn't take us very far below the surface. Personal ads are, after all, really an affirmation of hope. There just has to be someone out there who likes to cook, clean and polish Harleys.