September 7 – October 13, 2012

Installation view ( left to right)
Incoming Tide, Acid Ocean, floor piece: Hello Sailor


by Buzz Spector

That Joan Hall is a sailor as well as an artist and educator is well known to her friends and increasingly global public. Time she spends in her studio, itself redolent of the wavelets and wafting that papermaking has in common with oceans, happens between adventur- ing in a more nautical sense. I’ve spent some time in Hall’s studio, lifting pulp-laden screens with her from one or another of several tubs, and the gentle slosh of “couching” sheets is a rhythmic and momentary evocation of a private ocean. All paper achieves its mature dryness from a wet birth of pulp in water, but few artist/papermakers are as devoted to carrying the affective memory of the “bounding main” into their finished work.

“Marginal Waters,” Hall’s installation at Bruno David Gallery, is a voyage of sorts, bringing viewers to a greater understanding of the artist’s material and existential interests as they move through the gallery’s three successive spaces. In so doing they are confronted by symbolic—and occasionally literal—accoutrements of sailing the high seas. The journey begins, so to speak, with the “boat deck” of Hello Sailor, a 12 x 14-foot plinth of steel plates, subtly sloping toward one wall of the front gallery. This tilt references the eternal listing of any vessel plying open waters, while the clusters of etched designs on its surface turn out to be, on closer inspection, a repertoire of sailors’ tattoos. Among the drawings of anchors, mermaids, and coiled ropes we read the names of the three boats that Hall has owned, “Cygnet,” “Tangerine,” and “Havsflickan,” a Swedish sobriquet roughly translated as “Sea Girl.” This deck, with its tattoo imagery, holds an arrangement of actual sea-related found objects up to view: short sections of hawsers and a dilapidated crab pot, each encased in handmade paper husks. There is a melancholic undertone to this display, since every “found” object must first be “lost,” and Hall acknowledges this attitude by labeling as “detritus” the artifacts she’s chosen.

Things look up in the next space, the main gallery—in more sense than one as named here—in the encounter with five large wall- mounted works in/of paper, cut pieces of mylar netting, and nestled found objects. These “nets” seem to float out from the walls, encouraging viewers to draw closer to see the images and objects suspended in their material layerings, then farther away in order to grasp their shared quality of unboundedness, a collective spatial effect more in common with sailing than drifting. This distinction is key to the artist’s ultimate optimism about life; being adrift is a sailor’s nightmare but, if there is no argument to win against the sea, all of sailing is at least a negotiation with its vastness on behalf of destinations to be reached, goals to be achieved.

Hall’s palette in this suite—greens and blues shot through with moments of rust and gray—offers color as a rhetorical armature for another of her concerns; the increasing pollution of the world’s oceans. Pollution of another sort, bodily disease, is recorded in the images of cancer cells on numerous disk-shaped pieces of film mounted in several of the wall works. The comparison Hall makes between the dirtying of open water and infections inside bodies arises from the fundamental corporeal equivalence of salt in our blood to the salinity of ancient oceans. It bears mention that Hall is a cancer survivor as well as a sailor who has always returned home from the sea.

Those little disks of film also foreshadow the banks of framed paper and artifacts in the furthermost gallery; facing arrays of twenty steel-framed handmade paper and mixed-media sheets, these often accompanied by small bits of cast paper flotsam and jetsam. Johnson’s Bayou is five rows high and four across; Grand Isle is four rows high and five across. Forty “specimen boxes” in all, whose constituent elements are made using material harvested from a titular pair of Louisiana beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. The bits of plastic visible in the Johnson’s Bayou works speak to increasing ocean pollution while the blackness staining some of the Grand Isle works calls our attention to the damage suffered by that beach in the BP oil spill. The third work in the space is Rigs to Reef, a freestanding steel bench whose seat is etched with a drawing of branch coral. The bench is also equipped with motion sensors that turn on a sound generating mechanism whenever someone comes near. The soundtrack thus activated is a field recording of the sound of waves (and a touch of Cajun music) mixed with an original violin score written and performed by Hall’s friend, the com- poser Hollis Taylor.

On the closest wall to the bench is a near-invisible text, in white vinyl on the white gallery wall, describing the political and method- ological bases of Hall’s Gulf project. Squinting to read the words on the wall we realize that the bench’s title makes reference to the ecosensitive practice of allowing no longer functioning deep water oil rigs to remain in place as environments for naturally growing ocean reefs. Rigs to Reef is another optimistic moment in “Marginal Waters,” its audio component incorporating a human overlay to the beautiful natural music of the waves. However, the sound of Taylor’s violin is itself something beautiful, a tonal entwining of artistic agency with a natural affect. Here, but only for those who approach it, can be found a summary of Hall’s deeply held belief in our capacity to save the Earth’s waters from the margins of environmental disaster. If, in its entirety, “Marginal Waters” operates as a polemic, its argument is made all the more beguiling through its beauty.

Hello Sailor 2012
144″ L x 168″ W x 16″ H
Paper, etched steel, ditritus


Acid Ocean 2011-12
84″ x 136″ x 17″
Paper, resin, Mylar, acrylic


Ghost Fishing 2012
57″ x 91″ x 9″
Paper, resin, Mylar


Drift Net 2012
64″ x 87″ x 15″
Paper, resin, Mylar, detritus, glass beads


Dying Ocean 2010-12
64″ x 245″ x 17″
Paper, resin, Mylar, detritus, acrylic, plastic, plastic debris, detritus


Your Existence Is Not Unlike My Own 2008-12
64″ x 245″ x 17″
Paper, resin, Mylar, acrylic, plastic debris, detritus


by Kara Gordon

People call it the eighth continent. Spanning from Indonesia to the western shores of North America, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been speculated to be twice the size of the continental United States. It is exactly what it sounds like: ocean debris and trash floating together, swirling around in the North Pacific Gyre. Passionate about the environment and how it affects human beings on a micro and macro scale, Joan Hall’s work delves deep into the polluted waters and beaches of our planet.

“Marginal Waters” expands Hall’s exploration of the environment in relation to global society. Her research spans a lifetime of being drawn to the sea, sailing over 25,000 miles as a skilled navigator and sailboat racer. Likewise, her work seems equally vast: conglom- erations of hand-cut Mylar and handmade paper, paper shells of marine life and debris, and actual remnants of dregs that wash up on shore. These pieces have a haunting, ghost-like quality reminiscent of ocean folklore.

Hall makes it clear that there is more to life than the concrete and asphalt jungle surrounds us every day. The sense of an otherness, of another entity accumulating all that we have discarded, echoes in Your Existence is Not Unlike My Own and Drift Net. There is a collection of juxtaposed ideas; viewers will recognize the entrapped netting working both with and against the ocean that only stays constant by constantly changing. “Marginal Waters,” as a whole, is ancient and wise, but fresh and very much alive.

The sheer mass of work in “Marginal Waters” is overwhelming, despite being only nine in number. Hello Sailor, a sculptural inter- pretation of the deck of a boat, is a span of etched steel measuring 12 by 14 feet and rising to 16 inches tall. The Grand Isle and Johnson’s Bayou series consist of 20 framed works that nearly fill the wall space from floor to ceiling. The massiveness of Hall’s work is a reminder the issues affect us all.

Made out of the sand and debris found in their respective places, the Grand Isle and Johnson’s Bayou series were made on-site, liter- ally lifting sections of deteriorating beaches. The papers, although mostly flat, are too visceral to be seen as just made papers. They are flattened sculptures. Imagine one of these papers being an entire beach; the thought is shuddering. At the same time, there is something beautifully broken about these papers. Hall makes trash, something negative, into art.

“Marginal Waters” expresses Hall’s personal visual language, and yet will reach and haunt the audience in a way that cannot be ignored. Each piece–even within the series–sings with its own voice, but together they sound the song of sirens. One cannot help but be entranced by Hall’s work. It pushes us to the edge of our capacity to understand ourselves and the world around us.

Kara Gordon is a writer who lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri. This essay is one in a series of the gallery’s exhibitions written by fellow gallery artists and writers.

Installation Details:

10% of all plastic produced in the world ends up in the ocean.
Seawater is turning acidic, threatening fish, coral and other marine life.
Crucial habitats are falling victim to the changing chemistry in the ocean.
Warm water coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate. Coral grows .04 inch per year.
The oceans are explicably linked to the health of each and every one of us who inhabit the earth.
Like humans, the octopus is versatile, successful, and intelligent, but has no power, therefore no choice and no voice in shaping the overall future of the planet. WE DO.

Sylvia Earle, “Ocean, an Illustrated Atlas.” July 2008.


Our relationship to the sea is the foundation of Joan Hall’s creative works. Plastic is becoming a global problem, polluting our great- est resource–WATER.

In June 2011, Hall and her studio assistant, Danielle Spradley, drove an RV to the Gulf of Mexico to document pollution on the coast of Louisiana. This “mobile studio” allowed her to integrate “field work” into her studio practice. These forty works are a result of this trip.

Near the Texas border in Johnson’s Bayou, plastic containers, rope, and gloves washed up on the shore each day from as far away as Haiti. They were combined with handmade paper to document, map, and freeze the pollution as relics of a specific time.

Grande Isle, located south of New Orleans, was opened just after the 2011 oil spill. Clean-up gloves filled with oily residue, hard hats, and plastic washed up constantly on the shore. The “black sand” left on the beach after a very low tide proved to actually be coagu- lant used to dry up oil in the water.

As an experienced sailor, Hall has experienced the vastness of the ocean beyond the sight of land, and yet has not escaped the im- pact of the human race.

Johnson’s Bayou 2012
124″ x 142″ x 4.5″
20 elements approximately 20″ x 27″ 3″ each
Handmade Paper, detritus, steel

Grand Isle 2012
109″ x 179″ x 4.5″
20 elements approximately 20″ x 27″ 3″ each
Handmade Paper, detritus, steel

Rigs to Reef(Grand Isle), 2012
60″ x 20″ x 18″ framed
Etched steel with motion activated recording
Original score written and performed by Hollis Taylor, field recording by Joan Hall

Listen to the original score here


by Bruno David

For the opening of our Seventh Season, I am pleased to present Joan Hall’s second solo exhibition “Marginal Waters” with the gallery. Fascinated with the ocean for years and traveling over 25,000 miles as a skilled navigator and sailboat racer, it comes as no surprise that Hall’s latest work encompasses her passion for the environment. Through Hall’s use of Mylar and handmade paper, viewers will recognize marine debris and plastic pollution that infiltrate our oceans. Previously exploring the ocean and its relationship to the body, Hall’s work has expanded from the micro-focus of the ocean’s relationship to the individual and the body of cells we are made of to the body of global society of which we are all a part of.

Piqued by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that extends from Indonesia to the western shores of North America, Hall’s work encapsu- lates the deteriorating shores and waters that she has frequented. Hall both makes the viewer aware of her environmental concern and her ability to make pollution into something beautiful. Making paper and casting pins from debris collected from the beaches, the material is both familiar and alien. Inventing her own coding system through the exploration between her ideas and materials, Hall’s work creates a juxtaposition between the entrapped netting and the organic ever-varying oceans; a play between the ancient waters and their current state of ephemerality.

Joan Hall received her B.F.A. at the Columbus college of Art and Design, Ohio, and her M.F.A. at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She is the Kenneth E. Hudson Professor in the Sam Fox School of Art and Design at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has been shown both nationally and internationally, including: Your Existence is Not Unlike My Own, Silkeborg Bad, Denmark (2010); Crossovers: Materials and Metaphors, The Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio, TX (2010); Joan Hall, The Museum Ri- jswijk, Holland (2008) and Holland Paper Biennial, The CODA Museum, Apeldoorn, Holland (2008). Her latest permanent installation work “The Confluence” can be seen at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Support for the creation of significant new works of art has been the core to the mission and program of the Bruno David Gallery since its founding in 2005. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Buzz Spector and Kara Gordon for their thoughtful essays. I am deeply grateful to Yoko Kiyoi, who gave much time, talent, and expertise to the production of this catalogue. Invaluable gallery staff support for the exhibition was provided by Rachael Schomburg, Martin Lang, Nicole Yen, Christy Kirk, Sophie Lipman, and Nicole Fry.

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