A Kingdom of Precipitous Peaks
By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: Unorganized Territories – Sculpture by Mark Schatz, at Main Hall Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, OH, THROUGH MAY 4 / Viewing hours Mon.-Fri. 11 AM to 5 PM, Sat. 10 AM-Noon
“…I try to evoke something deeply familiar in surprising ways. I acknowledge and even relish the fragmentation, distortion, and reinvention of our remembered places.” – Mark Schatz
Some materials and methods of assembly do indeed have an innate capacity to awaken memories or invite storytelling. The several untitled sculptures that comprise this airy installation by Mark Schatz (Assistant Professor and Foundation Program Coordinator for the School of Art at Kent State University, Main Campus) instantly transported me to my childhood train set. At its most “magnificent,” it sprawled across a few crude, rickety tables in the basement, piled high with hand-painted papier-maché mountains, popsicle stick buildings and erector set bridges. Architecturally unsophisticated and unreasonable to be sure, it was still my world, manifesting an exuberant desire (or maybe compulsion?) to construct a fantasy kingdom.
Likewise, you might call Mr. Schatz’s installation a corrugated kingdom, conjuring unusual living habitats along Lilliputian longitudes. His meticulously laminated and cut cardboard forms evoke the eerie columns of eroded rock strata called earth pyramids, fairy chimneys, or hoodoos, carved through eons of geologic change, located in various arid terrains around our planet.
On the face of it, the thought of building a home atop such formations is purely unreasonable. An absurd foundation for a place to live. Seeing the idea as a symbol, however, is an entirely different exercise. By crowning the pinnacles of his isolated tapered towers – some of them leaning precariously - with little models of unfinished wood frame houses, like so many hermitages, Schatz invests his forms with a surreal whimsicality that nonetheless leaves generous room for building a personal narrative.
You could begin by considering the idea of corrugated cardboard itself – its physical design and functions - and the associations that come with it, such as storage, stacking, mobility, unpacking, impermanence. Look closely at the nature of the material and the variations that happen between all those layers of tiny, alternating curved ridges and grooves – the irregular gaps that can suggest tunnels or caves, or corridors to the other side of the mountain, as it were.
Further, there’s the idea of some sort of pre-set plan or control for the laborious cutting and accumulating of individual planes that progressively lessen in area as the towers ascend to their narrow peaks. Accidents and/or mistaken calculations come with the territory.
So maybe it’s not so unreasonable to regard these forms as representing adaptation to unpredictability, or as allegories of a process for embracing change. Both dangerous and thrilling, here’s a delightfully entertaining kingdom symbolizing all those places and times where serendipity might rule.