Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dancing Sardines

Once upon a time time . . . Belfast, Maine was recognized as one of the One Hundred Culturally Cool Towns in the United States. It’s had its downs since then, but thanks to Waterfall Arts, Culturally Cool is back in Belfast. Waterfall’s mission is to make connections between art and nature, which it does with a mix of symposia, lectures, exhibitions and classes. Waterfall also has Dan Beckman, about whom I wrote here in Fluxus Redux on March 25. In his unassuming way, Dan had invited me to “a couple of events we’re putting on.” I didn’t make the first one (and boy, I am sorry now), because Friday night, the second event was excellent. Nature came right in the door in the person of Shana Hanson, a singer and storyteller whose a capella song about planting seeds (which is what she does for a living) was down to earth simple and beguiling. While singing, she kept time with her feet, as if putting the seeds into the earth right then and there.

The evening continued with Max Ascrizzi’s video projected onto a can of live sardines. Well, not really, but since Belfast’s sardine factory shut down only a few years ago, the mental connection is there. What did happen? A dark room, a black plastic backdrop, and six or seven people dressed all in white were the screen onto which Max projected a black and white video abstraction, and since those people in white were moving around in a very confined boxlike arrangement – voila, silvery sardines dancing in their container. Perhaps not what Max had intended, but a stunning visual nonetheless.

And wait, there’s more! Bill Daniel’s film , “a mostly-factual cinematic account of the epic search and unlikely discovery of hoboemia’s most legendary boxcar artist Who is Bozo Texino?” had its East Coast premier at Deitch Projects in New York, and is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Extended and detailed, in the way of Fred Wiseman documentaries. Grand, in the sense that the physical canvas of these United States is grand. The juxtapositions of scale, the close-ups of boxcars and couplings, tiny trains moving through a vast landscape, excellent music and dialogue, kept me riveted the whole time. Makes you wonder how Daniel got some of the footage without getting himself killed. If it comes your way, get on board, or best choice, buy a copy. There’s more here too – don’t miss it.

A note about feed for this blog: the site feed to the left is dysfunctional, and until I get it fixed, you can scroll down to the bottom of the blog for an atom feed.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Exploding Art

In the April 17 Free Press, poet Don Tescher writes “this morning’s poem is yesterday’s prose . . . .” And so it is in blog world, as last week’s events become this week’s blog. On Saturday, I stopped by the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, where exhibition and education programming go hand in hand. Poets were engaged in writing poetry inspired by “An Other World,” an exhibition of visionary sculpture and paintings brought together by CMCA’s Curator, Britta Konau. In her talk earlier this month, Britta explained that the show’s title makes it clear that this art presents not just another world (as, say. a group of paintings about Italy would do), but very specific looks into worlds that might exist in some parallel universe. This multiple universe concept is directly tied to Education Director Cathy Melio’s invitation to poets to come to the gallery and present their other world visions.

Upstairs in the Loft Gallery, Jesse Gillespie was at work installing found industrial and utilitarian objects, some of them really big, others more modest but all equally quirky and appealing. On the end wall by the stairs, look for a spray can which apparently exploded in a garbage dump, because its head of foam insulation is embedded with gravel and a rusty nail. At the opposite end is a personable tribe of upright objects. But Jesse will provide no titles, and no labels – so you will be free to let your imagination run amok and possibly come up with poems of your own about artists and poets and bloggers whose heads periodically explode with the ordinariness of daily life.

Jesse’s show The Gleaners and Lois Dodd: Directly Considered downstairs open to the public Saturday, April 26, with a reception Friday, April 25, 5-7 p.m.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bulldozers, toast and coffee

This particular day is beginning with the squeaks and creaks of a bulldozer on its way up my drive to pull some dirt around. Eventually I will have a courtyard of rocks and gravel that will make being outdoors in mud season a lot more pleasant. But generally, my weekdays begin with Douglas McLennon’s artsJournal. This comes to me as an email menu of arts blogs and news articles, organized under the headings of “latest in aj blogs,” “today’s video,,” music, dance, issues, visual, and so on. It’s all there – and though I am a visual artist, I pick and choose from every submenu as the headlines catch my interest.

And as a visual artist, I find it’s no longer just about studio time and painting, though that takes precedence. It’s also about the larger picture (a Freudian slip?) where arts education and arts organizations are linked in community. How can the methods of Project Management be useful to arts organizations? “Is there a better case for the arts” is a particularly well-considered, in depth online discussion about expanding the role of the arts locally and nationally. Here the point is made that to act locally is to stimulate the arts on a larger scale.

In making a better case for the arts, McLennon initially asked “How do we get the public engaged in talking about art? We have to promote the conversations wherever we can.” And that’s why I’m blogging. I would rather begin and end the day with conversation about art in any of its forms and permutations than with another re-hash of the political scene as defined by the next election.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Goth Bling, Cityscapes and Meanders

First Friday in Portland, April 4, found me entranced by a piece of Goth bling in the Maine College of Art BFA Senior Exhibitions. Holly L. Gooch’s “Necklace” most resembles a shed snakeskin, but is actually made of linked maggot casings, caught at each end in a clasp of green gold. The inclusion of green gold was a right choice which set off the ghostlike white of the casings. I imagined what it would be like to wear this necklace, though it must be incredibly fragile, and like Cinderella’s ball gown, crumble to dust at the stroke of midnight.

Across the hall at June Fitzpatrick Gallery, Alison Hildreth’s “Forthrights and Meanders” have the visual impact of oriental scrolls. Each ink and wash drawing is a confluence of rusts, greys and ochers, archaeological tracings of architectural floor plans and roadways populated by scatterings of scorpions, wasps, bees, flies, and skeletal creatures of prehistoric age. The drawings on crumpled paper are pinned to the wall like specimens in a natural history museum. I had the feeling that Hildreth has excavated the thick surfaces of her early paintings to discover mementi of a distant past, in which the beginnings of civilization are waiting to be discovered.

A black and white photograph of Sixth Avenue, New York City, in the “Urban Seen” exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art rotates the vertical format of Hildreth’s drawings into a horizontal cityscape which references human scale and activity against manmade architecture and silent existential space. The relative absence of color in each of these forms – necklace, archeological excavations, urban scene – provides the key to the kingdom of what may have been and what is yet to come.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bright Common Spikes

Since seeing John Bisbee's show at the Portland Museum of Art last month, I’ve been pondering the nature of artists’ materials and whether they are barrier or boon in providing access to the spiritual. Bisbee works with oversize nails of different lengths, which he refers to as common spikes. It’s true that if you take a spike and scratch a contemporary artist, you’re likely to find traces of Duchamp or Warhol somewhere in there and that these were artists whose work ostensibly negated the spiritual.

But is it the spikes, or the way Bisbee uses them, that encourages the viewer to think spiritual thoughts? His sculptures are variously objective, provide food for the mind, and embody natural forces. Having seen his work before, I had come to the museum expecting to find something of the other-worldly, but it was not until I got back home that I was able to let go of my sense of awe at the extreme physicality of materials and technique, and revel in the multiplicity of patterns which is where, ultimately, the spirituality resides.