Some Assembly Required
By Tom Wachunas
“…a work of art is the product of strange activities in the human mind.”
- Clive Bell -
EXHIBITION: Assembled Contemplations: Site-specific Installations, featuring work by Sarah Burris, Corwin Levi, Lorri Ott and Erica Raby, THROUGH FEBRUARY 28, Gallery at Main Hall, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton. Gallery hours are 11:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. to Noon Saturday
In the context of “alternative art,” the term installation art emerged during the 1970s to describe unconventional, interdisciplinary works. Additionally, such non-traditional marriages of materials and processes can be fairly sprawling affairs intended to encompass entire gallery spaces, often incorporating multisensory encounters for the viewer. Moreover, the term typically refers to content wherein deeply conceptual concerns trump purely formal ones.
By these criteria the exhibit, curated by Erica Raby, is a bit sparse, though certainly not without its intellectually compelling moments.
All That Glitters and Pearls, by Sarah Burris, is a visually striking wall piece comprised of small, colored yarn pom-poms clustered together to suggest flower patches wherein glitter-winged butterflies rest and strings of pearls are embedded. Via sweeping arcs of roping between the patches, the piece joins two gallery walls where they meet in a corner. More decorative than mysterious or inaccessible, the work exudes a domestic preciousness.
In a raw, totemic sort of way, Lorri Ott’s untitled wall piece seems decorative and floral too, reminiscent of the vertical configurations of Foxglove blossoms. Her ‘flowers’ are made from clear plastic drinking cups that obviously once held variously colored paints. At the risk of sounding like an overbearing stickler for precise nomenclature, this isn’t really an installation work per se so much as it is simply a mixed media sculpture. If there’s a viable thematic connection to the other works in the show (not that there has to be), it might be in the realm of recycled consumer trash, an element very present in Erica Raby’s piece.
Of the four pieces in the show, Raby’s Oh, little trees comes closest to the idea (as communicated in the show’s title) of site-specific installation in the purest sense. Which is to say that such works are in some way tangibly and/or conceptually connected to the particular place where we encounter them. In this case, the visual scope of the work is unified by the inclusion of string lines that connect the floor elements to a wall. It’s an interesting complement to the directional roping that Burris employed in her work situated on the opposite side of the gallery. Further enhancing the diverse components of Raby’s installation are the web-like graphite drawings executed directly on the gallery’s white pedestals (strewn with dead twigs “planted” upright in metal bottle caps) and continuing on to the nearby wall where the strings converge.
The floor is littered with dozens of plastic bottle caps and lids placed atop drab colored paper shapes that might symbolize pollutant spillages. Several yellow plastic light bulb cages (the kind you’d see at construction or industrial sites), containing mysterious wads of something, are hanging from the ceiling. It’s a quietly ominous work, evoking associations with distressed natural environments.
And speaking of mysterious somethings, there’s the intriguing Instants from the Void, by Corwin Levi, who evidently works under the alternate name of Radio Sebastian. Strewn about the floor is a collection of paperbound poetry volumes. Suspended from the ceiling above are a dozen airy spheroids, each made from what appears to be a continuous, very thin strip of paper coiled in on itself. There’s a wondrously meticulous if not obsessive quality about all the tiny colored texts – presumably poetry - printed on those paper strips.
Levi left a note, inviting viewers to leave a poem at the site. Maybe it’s a matter of sighting or citing the ethos of literature present on the floor, or encased in those hovering paper spheres like so many thought clouds ready to rain down cogent verses. Assemble your thoughts. Construct your own possibility.
PHOTOS (from top): Oh, little trees by Erica Raby; Instants from the Void by Corwin Levi (Radio Sebastian); All That Glitters and Pearls by Sarah Burris; untitled by Lorri Ott