Lisa Ludwig's "From Switches and Pine" at Moody Gallery is, at first glance, a roomful of birds' nests. Did you know that it's easy to take any burnable object (i.e. wood, cloth, paper, bird's nests, etc) and make an exact replica of it in bronze? This is that.
Untitled, unique bronze, 2007
Along with Harry Geffert, who uses bronze to unify complex, narrative found object constructions, Linda Ridgway (bronze twigs and lace), Joe Havel (bronze curtains and shirts), Bale Creek Allen (bronze tumbleweeds and tire treads), and a bunch of other Texas artists, Ludwig has been absorbed into the Green Mountain Foundry aesthetic. Taking ordinary things and casting them in bronze to art-ify them is a good trick. Aside from odd bits of marine hardware, bronze = Art. While casting found objects in bronze makes them more durable, and reassures unsophisticated collectors of their worthiness, Ludwig's new work has traded in the edginess that her earlier work got from exploiting non- traditional, non-durable materials like molded sugar and petrified cake.
The yellowish-brown of the bronze is a fair imitation of the natural colors of the twigs. In spots the sparkly sandblasted bronze gives the pieces an otherworldly "fairy dust" effect. Technically impressive casting gives the pieces incredible, lifelike detail.
The big question is whether she made them herself, or simply cast found nests. I can't decide. Some of the arrangements of twigs show the unmistakable human touch, too comprehensible for bird work, but most seem completely natural. Here and there telltale blobs that could have been glue reinforce critical joints, or maybe they're just casting defects.
It makes a difference. Imagine someone making these from scratch, imitating natural bird's nests. It's an attractive and mind-bendingly weird project, but then why cast them in bronze? If, as seems likely, she's collecting natural nests and casting them, we're on much more familiar territory. It's an extension of the urge to collect, study and own fascinating natural objects. Ludwig's collection is aesthetic, rather than rigorously scientific, making the most of the nest's fascinating half-recognizable patterns by preserving them in a more durable, more collectable medium.