Scott Lyall: OK!lahoma

3 September – 3 November 2003

For his exhibition at the Art Gallery of York University, Scott Lyall presents a new work of sculpture, OK!lahoma, designed to occupy much of the space of the main gallery. The new work shares some characteristics of Lyall’s earlier projects, Plugged and Unplugged (1996) and Washington Square (1997-98). In Washington Square, stacked platforms, a leveled arch, and other elements provided a sequence of stages and spatial ideas, reflecting ideas drawn from a Henry James novel of the same name, the civic park in Greenwich Village, and certain Mondrian paintings. With OK!lahoma, there is a similar potential for association. Parallel lines and stacked risers are held below 29 inches – the height between the floor and the underside of a desktop – and may resemble a sequence of frames for performance, or a flat landscape idyll (the state of a mid-western plane).

OK!lahoma is less a title than a keyword for the sculpture, its first two letters alluding to a standard interface icon. As such, it provides no meaning or interpretive framework per se, but supplies parameters for naming and considering its subject. Lyall refers to his work as a “settlement” with this subject, a term suggesting a rift between built form and its images as well as a negotiation with the abstractions of transmission-based culture.

Writing, research, and diagrams are important parts of Lyall’s process, and are stored as files on a computer screen’s desktop, over long periods of time in advance of an exhibition. Only portions of a file can be used for each sculpture. OK!lahoma was developed as an accumulation of such deposits, by tracing the biography of a little known playwright, Lynn Riggs. Riggs, a bored farm boy in early twentieth century Oklahoma, achieved minor celebrity in New York in the 1940s for an off Broadway play entitled Green Grow the Lilacs, the book source for Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma!. Information about his life is readily available on the internet, but Riggs is neither the implied inhabitant nor an alter ego for the sculpture.

The materials Lyall tends to use for his sculpture are inexpensive and readily available, such as particle board, polystyrene, cotton fabric, and cardboard. These materials lend an incomplete or interrupted aspect to presentation, which seems both haphazardly constructed and carefully calibrated. The work suggests states of transition, or else waiting: either before or after an event not yet happened.