When Karin Waisman contemplated the sentence, “The horizon is not a straight line,” two years ago, it held different meaning.
It referred to an open-ended future, an uncertain life full of twists and turns. In her own, that has included earning her architecture degree in her native Argentina and, in an effort to follow her passion, moving to the United States to study art at Cornell University — intending only to stay in New York for a few years.
That was almost three decades ago.
The artist has made a home and studio in Bridgehampton, recently spending much more time on the East End than in New York during the COVID-19 crisis. And, with it, she is contemplating the title of her show at Guild Hall — and its eponymous, site-specific, 250-inch-long centerpiece in the East Hampton museum’s Woodhouse Gallery — in a new way.
“I chose that title before the pandemic, but then I thought, how appropriate?” Waisman said. “You never know what’s coming. The horizon is not a straight line, like life is not a straight line. You can think of ‘horizon’ as the future of your life, what lies ahead. And, definitely, it’s not a straight line.”
Postponed for a year due to the pandemic, “Karin Waisman: The Horizon is Not a Straight Line” is now on view alongside “Enoc Perez: Paradise” through May, marking the most in-depth presentation of her internationally exhibited collection of work to date — an expansive examination of her perception of the natural world.
“You read it with your eyes, but you also perceive it with your body,” she said of the show. “It’s something you have to experience in person with your body moving in space.”
Waisman feels the same about nature — always opting to experience it physically, and up close, rather than gaze at it from afar. Feeling the presence of the ocean and the East End light, and seeing the changes in the seasons so strongly, informs her work indirectly, as do her childhood adventures in Argentina.
Growing up, her family would take road trips every summer, touring the vastness of a countryside that required them to strategically plan gas stops to avoid getting stranded. In college, she continued to answer the call to explore, this time on foot with a pack strapped to her back, hiking the wilderness of Patagonia for months at a time during her school breaks.
“That was very important to me. It was something I really, really liked, but I wouldn’t say that that is directly connected to my work,” Waisman said. “In my work, the importance of nature is not through observation, it’s more like something that comes inside out. It’s more like the process of growth and decay, and the cycles and changes that you see in nature that are very important for me.”
Those pulsating patterns in nature, both fluid and contradictory with an imminent threat of disorder, are seen throughout Waisman’s work, starting with the earliest piece in the show, “Siren’s Beach,” a cast aluminum sculpture depicting an aerial view of desiccated land fragmented into a maze of Pythagorean spirals unfolding across the floor.
“It’s like a mathematical progression, and it’s this relationship between the fragment and the whole,” Waisman said. “So you can see this from the very beginning to the work that I’m doing now.”
The commissioned cast resin and ceramic wall relief that anchors the show not only examines these common themes, but investigates the notion of the border, conceiving it not as a straight line, but as a complex contact point between two elements that push and pull, while continuing to support one another.
That tension between growth and chaos fascinated Waisman, she said, and this was her starting point for the installation, composed of nearly 300 separate, numbered pieces that are installed, traced, taken down to make a template, and re-installed.
“To hang it again, I have to put the template — that’s a full-scale map — on the wall, and then attach every piece where it goes, and then remove that template,” she explained. “So there’s a performative act when I install the work. It’s almost like I’m creating the work again. It’s not like I have a painting and I just hang it. It’s a whole process and that is part of the work.”
For the two series of drawings in the show, “Fragments of a Mountain” and “The Ocean Drawings,” the performative element is not lost, either. The former, which studies the passage of geological time, is installed at varying eye levels to suggest mountainous terrain, and the latter, drawn on mylar, plunges the viewer into varying depths, currents and temperatures of water.
“If you see it from a distance, you can see or feel your body moving in the water at different depths — some parts closer to the surface that are lighter and some deeper that are darker — because they are done with different layers of drawing, layer on top of layer on top of layer,” she said. “But if you see them very close, you can see every single mark of the pencil on the paper, and you can also imagine the rhythm of making it. There’s this element of something that is performed over and over again.”
Extracting the rhythmic cadence of nature transcends medium, and when considering the intersection of architecture and art, even that is not a straight line for the multidisciplinary artist. They feed off of one another, both at Guild Hall and, notably, in Waisman’s work “Blue Oasis,” a concrete structure partially buried in the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico.
From the outside, the building blends with the desert, but descending one floor into the underground space is like stepping into water, Waisman said, the sound reflected on the tiled walls, floor and ceiling in a continuous echo, with natural light intentionally beamed in through stainless steel tubes, which also serve as windows to the harsh landscape outside.
“When I came to the States, my idea was to combine both things because I was very interested in public artwork,” Waisman said of mixing art and architecture. “So I think it’s still connected.”
Just as visitors immerse themselves in “Blue Oasis,” Waisman said she hopes her East End audience will share a similar experience with “The Horizon Is Not a Straight Line,” reflecting on what they feel while standing in front of the piece.
“I don’t want the work to be didactic,” she said. “It has a meaning for me, how it came to be and what I experience with the work, but I want everyone who comes here to have their own experience, the same way that you do when you are in nature. It’s a personal thing that you process. I hope my work would allow them to have that.”