Emily Ludwig Shaffer, R & R & R, 2019, acrylic on paper, 22.5 x 30 inches
Emily Ludwig Shaffer
From the Ha-Ha Wall Comes the No-No Dance
May 3 - June 8, 2019
Institute 193, Lexington
In landscape architecture, Ha-Ha’s are a design element of French-origin, comprised of a steep ditch leading to a vertical retaining wall. The feature acts as a nearly invisible but nonetheless effective barrier, limiting transit from one side to the other. One such barrier makes an appearance in a work by Emily Ludwig Shaffer and is referenced in its title, From the Ha-Ha Wall Comes the No-No Dance. Visual play and illusionistic architectural space, essential to the function of Ha-Ha’s, figure prominently throughout Shaffer’s work.
The bulk of the paintings on view are tightly rendered depictions of uncanny, intimate, interior spaces. At times, they exceed reality; in one, afternoon and dusk can be seen through windows in neighboring rooms, another shows a starry night sky housed in a box and a bay leaf wreath. Domestic in nature, the small, homey spaces seem to be designed for social gatherings between intimate friends, despite crossing over into alternate or parallel realities.
Shaffer, whose mother was an architect, describes the scenes in her paintings as theoretical explorations of space, light, and color, and as homages to the spaces women build and create. If the ideal space in classical architecture, largely envisioned from a masculine perspective, privileges logic, rationality, and grand scale, then Shaffer’s interiors privilege the reverse. They are surreal, esoteric, and meant to accommodate small, familial gatherings.
References to feminine traditions and practices frequently appear as frames or decorative elements within the structures Shaffer builds. In one painting, a large braid is draped over the roof and sidewall of one room. Another shows a wall adorned with a woven structure made up of cylindrical purple plants.
The only overt reference to the figure present in the works, are the ambiguously featured statuary emerging from the hedge in ‘From the Ha-Ha Wall Comes the No-No Dance.’ The position in which they are frozen, which Shaffer calls the ‘No-No Dance’, with arms stretched, palms out, and legs extended, is an embodied gesture of refusal that carries with it the implied sensuality of a dance. Perhaps these figures serve as gatekeepers to the spaces beyond, the invisible but impenetrable border formed by the Ha-Ha ensuring that those within the hedge can engage in joyful self-preservation and world building regardless of what lies beyond.
In addition to the paintings on view, Shaffer has partnered with Lexington-based architect & designer Jason Scroggin and the Michler Family Florists to design and build a custom bench seat with planters meant to encourage intimate exchanges. Scroggin is an Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Design School of Architecture and practices independently as Scroggin Studio. He was assisted by Afif Alahmad and Lucas Wheeler.