Magazine article Sculpture

MEMPHIS: Terri Phillips

Magazine article Sculpture

MEMPHIS: Terri Phillips

Article excerpt

MEMPHIS Terri Phillips TOPS Gallery

The pairing of a live bottom-feeder with bursts of natural sunlight reflected from above was just one example of the paradoxes inherent in both Terri Phillips's installation Chapel of Yes and its unique setting. Mississippi River catfish are a nocturnal, prehistoric-looking species that scour the muddy river substrate for morsels to feed on, often organisms long dead. Unlike most fish, they sink rather than float because of their weighty bone structure. The catfish, then, seems an appropriate mascot for an installation and gallery space searching for meaning and transcendence at the bottom.

TOPS, which opened in 2012, is located in the basement of a historic building in downtown Memphis, just one block from the Mississippi River. To find the space, visitors wander down rickety wooden steps and through a storage basement stocked full of salvage-industrial equipment, printshop materials, and old furniture-forgotten relics waiting for repurposing. At the farthest, and lowest, end of the building, a former coal storage room has been transformed into a space for the display of art.

Entering a doorway widened with a sledgehammer, the coal-encrusted walls fell away as Chapel of Yes induced reverence. The experience began with a gleaming white epoxy floor that encouraged visitors to remove their shoes before they even realized the hallowed nature of the work. Although the floor is a permanent fixture of the gallery, for this installation, it functioned to invert norms of high and low; the spotless surface associated purity with what was underfoot-the ground of life itself, rather than the disconnected firmament above. …

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