Saturday, March 16, 2013

Transcendent Tendrils

Transcendent Tendrils
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Continuum – Mixed Media Work by Susan McClelland, Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, THROUGH APRIL 10 (Gallery closed during Spring Break March 25-31). Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 11am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to Noon

    Much of the discourse surrounding Postmodernist aesthetics and forms embraces art as a system of symbols – a language – that is intrinsically metaphorical and elliptical. From this perspective, an artist’s chosen form will often signify a singular thing while exemplifying (either intentionally or not) a multiplicity of things.

    Interpreting the object at hand then necessarily becomes a matter of identifying or sorting out what experiences and/or predispositions we as viewers bring to the encounter - to fill in the blanks, so to speak, between the signified and the exemplified. As the years march on, I’ve found this approach to understanding the complicated ethos of Postmodernism to be increasingly useful, and particularly helpful on the occasion of seeing the fascinating work of Susan McClelland, adjunct faculty (sculpture) at Kent Stark.

    Five small, mixed-media wall pieces, under the collective title, Series of Strategies, have all the appearance of dissected spinal vertebrae. But these organic forms aren’t objective illustrations of medical specimens. They’re invitingly tactile, meticulously stitched together and colored, and exude a distinctly lyrical quality. Backbones with character. You might view them as allegories of evolving personhood. 

    McClelland’s other sculptures here are evocative of vine-like stems and tendrils. Their highly textured, multi-colored surfaces give them a bold and magical sort of presence – not unlike encountering strange growths in a fantasy forest.

    Three of the works are collaborative projects with three students – Jen Jones, Cory Wilson, and Joshua Humm. McClelland presented each student with one of her spindly configurations and the student “responded” by merging it with painted styrofoam forms, manipulated to suggest, perhaps, stratified rock formations or primitive architecture. I think these chimerical convergences are largely successful on the part of the students in consistently sustaining the spirit of McClelland’s working process.

    It is a process which is - as manifest by the show’s most compelling and ambitious piece, a large-scale installation called Speciation - certainly ephemeral and intuitive. On the surface, this spectacular work is a gnarled tangle of long, thin, intersecting sticks (at times looking like bones) that have been encased in waxy color and ciliated fiber. 

    I think of the work’s linearity as spatial writing – a three-dimensional documentary, or diary if you will, about the continuity of decisions involved in its construction. There is a sense of fending off structural collapse, as indicated by the inclusion of black metal braces joining various segments together. This tension between the industrial and the organic is itself an engaging metaphor for the ontological concerns that can vex us all. 

   The simultaneity of decay and repair, damage and mending, or disease and healing is a sensibility resonant throughout this show. The colorful knotting together of disparate directions (decisions) apparent in Speciation does seem to indicate a subtle optimism amid potential chaos, as if to say when all else fails, go with the flow. A tentative if not harmonious resolution.

    PHOTOS (from top): from Series of Strategies; Organic Syncopation (collaboration with Joshua Humm); Speciation (detail)    

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