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Anita Walsh usually uses words to get her artistic messages across. She’s silk-screened slogans onto Band-Aids (“Gauze for Concern, 2/18/02) and attempted to hoist deep thoughts into the sky on a crane (“Uplifting Messages,” 2/13/04). Her latest project aims a bit lower.
Walsh first became fixated by cleaning products four years ago, while teaching art to middle schoolers in Venezuela. Drawn to the nubby textures and bright colors of sponges, she soon found herself sewing them together to make doormats.
Since then, the Dupont Circle resident’s preoccupation with domestic work been a sweeping force in her art. For her current exhibition, “Floor Plan” at the gallery at Flashpoint, Walsh spent six months constructing five floor surfaces—modeled on an entrance, kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom—out of birch. She then drew on the wood with soap, floor wax, and self-fashioned scrub brushes fitted with crayons before chopping up the wood, rearranging the pieces, and continuing to scrape down and layer on the patterns of wax. Viewers are invited to tread on the art to add their own scuff marks.
Walsh says her installation, on view through Dec. 22, is a meditation on the cyclic, often invisible nature of housekeeping. “The person who normally cleans the floor, they leave it sparkling clean,” she says. “As we walk over the floors, we’re removing what she’s done….Here, instead of wiping away her presence, [I’m] adding [a] presence….It gives people freedom to ask questions: What am I allowed to do?…I want their interaction to be removing what [was] created.”
Walsh hopes that as viewers move through the installation’s “rooms,” rubbing away her work with their feet, they will also think about their own memories associated with each type of room. For example, the living room and kitchen floors are covered in abstract swirls and patterns; the bedroom’s in haphazard stick figures and a few scribbly animals because, Walsh says, “bedrooms contain more stories.” There’s a Ferris wheel by the beach that she remembers from her childhood, plus sketches from her travel journals: an iguana from the Galápagos Islands, houses and cattle from Venezuela.
Walsh has also made a point of inviting domestic workers to the show.
“The reason I want them to come is that the pieces in the show honor the hard work that they do,” Walsh explains. “They’re amazed by that.”
So far, however, none of the workers Walsh has approached have made it to the gallery—a situation she attributes to the long hours the would-be visitors spend scrubbing less whimsical marks off of office floors.—Bidisha Banerjee