Aggie Zed, whose work is currently on display at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, grew up here on Sullivan’s Island. The show, comprised of sculpture, paintings, drawings, sketchbooks and installations, had never before been seen before the much-anticipated opening, held on Friday, January 20.
The opening was attended by a crush of 800 people. The lecture, held the following day, was equally crowded. Originally planned as a gallery walk-through, it was necessary for attendees to line walls and sit on the floor, in order to have their burning questions answered by Aggie Zed herself. Fittingly, the first inquiry of evening regarded Aggie’s childhood on Sullivan’s Island and how that unique experience has come to influence her work.
Aggie Zed was born in Charleston in 1952. The oldest daughter of Zed Lecates and Emily W. White, she grew up in a home near Breach Inlet that was teaming with excitement and activity. The family of nine kept donkeys, goats, chickens, cats and dogs, and most importantly, horses, which would later become a dominant image in Aggie’s work. Aggie describes the island of her youth as utterly wild and bare, a rifle range where she rode bareback on the beach.
Many images, not just of horses, come from her experiences on Sullivan’s Island. “It was a magical place,” she said, a wide-open mental landscape ripe for discovery. “It was like a bunch of crazy puzzles to be solved.”
Particularly with the installations, elements of the island are apparent. The sand, which forms the base of the elaborate displays or dioramas, is the most obvious element. Aggie also pointed out that the concrete disks, which are half-hidden beneath the sand, are meant to suggest the batteries and forts that dapple the island.
The metal scraps and curious objects that comprise many of the sculptures are all pieces of the curious puzzle that was (and still is) Sullivan’s Island—representative of the historical bric-a-brac that can be found everywhere.
Zed graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BFA in painting and sculpture. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Richmond and, later, Gordonsville, Virginia, where she lives and works today. She currently lives in a rural area, surrounded by farms.
Aggie Zed is captivating in her child-like approach to art and to life. When she speaks, she is constantly on the verge of laughter. She is full of jokes and jests. When I first saw her, she was spinning a child across the floor of the gallery, as if no one else was there.
At her lecture, she was full of jokes, many of them mildly self-effacing. At one point the feedback from her microphone led the curator to relocate Aggie in the gallery. To the curator, Mike Sloan, she said “I’ll be good,” hunching her shoulders and turning her toes inwards like a child sent to a corner “…You’re my keeper.”
Keeper is actually the British word for curator, a play-on-words that is and part of Aggie’s perpetual play with language and art.
In fact, Aggie sums up her artistic process as “battle and play.” All of her pieces, particularly the dioramas that recall the elaborate battle scenes comprised of tin soldiers, speak to this balance.