Sunday, April 24, 2016

Poetry in 3D

Poetry in 3D

By Tom Wachunas

  Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.  ― Flannery O'Connor

   Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. –T.S. Eliot
   EXHIBIT: Palpable/Sensory/Tactile – Sculpture by Isabel Farnsworth & Shannon Hines – THROUGH MAY 6 at MAIN HALL ART GALLERY, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio / Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 11 A.M. to 5 P.M.

   What makes Main Hall Art Gallery such a singularly edifying venue, and more so, I feel, than any other gallery in the greater Canton area, is the challenging breadth of contemporary aesthetic visions and ideologies that it consistently embraces. More often than not, the exhibits aren’t “art shows” in the ordinary or provincial sense. The artists featured in this space are very often from outside the Canton area, and regularly offer works that require something more from viewers beyond passive glancing. So I recommend coming here not looking to be merely entertained by the niceties of traditional wall and pedestal art. Instead, be willing to be engaged by and immersed in what one could rightly call experiential installations.

   Associate Professor Isabel Farnsworth and adjunct faculty member Shannon Hines are studio fine arts instructors at Kent’s main campus. Here, each offers three sculptural works that speak to the idea of memory and its associative processes. Both artists have provided written material very useful in grasping the contents and contexts of their respective pieces.

    Farnsworth’s mixed-media Tide combines wall and floor elements in a way that situates the viewer as if standing on a shore when the tide washes in, suggested by parallel rows of metal ribbons mounted on wooden frames along the floor. The repetitive pattern of these ornate, curled configurations echo and complement the look of flowing, long-hand script on the wall. There, like a blackboard “sky” overlaid with plaster water droplets, the text is a litany of references to bodies of water in English and Latin – Lakus Doloris, Lake of Sorrow, Sinus Amoris, Bay of Love, Mare Marginis, Sea of the Edge…  It’s a mesmerizing chant about the alluring mysteries and beauties of the sea, personal and universal. There’s a similarly hypnotic lyricism at work in the mandala-like floor piece, Halo, wherein painted cast forms bring to mind floating petals, simple boats, or ponds dotting a landscape seen from the air.

   Shannon Hines explains that her works are born from childhood memories. Though there might seem to be a kinship with the Minimalist aesthetic of industrial surfaces and forms stripped down to their geometric essentials, Hines’ tactile ingredients are quite effective in how they conjure multiple emotional associations belying their pared-down look. Stacked/memories  is a cubical form made from multiple, variably colored velvety pillows compacted like so many over-sized Lego pieces. And the haunting simplicity of Blue Moon Rising, with its large blue plane of back-lighted cloth, is rich with suggestions of children playing in a homemade fort, or the night time glow of a lantern in a tent.   
   I’m reminded that in making really compelling art of the sort on view here, artists are not unlike tightrope walkers – daring performers gingerly teetering between matter and spirit. Or we could think of them as the technicians and engineers of life’s more ineffable and ephemeral energies, giving tangible form to sensations embedded in the deepest recesses of our psyches. Synthesizers of the lyric and the practical, they distill and manipulate common raw materials into the uncommon stuff of poetry.

   PHOTOS (from top): Tide, by Isabel Farnsworth; Tide detail; Halo, by Isabel Farnsworth; Stacked/memories  (foreground) and Blue Moon Rising (on wall in background), by Shannon Hines

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