In the words of author John Dewey, art is an experience. In order to fully appreciate and absorb an exhibition, it is important to value the complete journey. One does not magically appear - poof! - standing in front of an artwork. The series of experiences - the initial intrigue through marketing, the venue, the environment - lead up to the moment you view the art, and influences your perspective and takeaway experience. Exhibitions that lend themselves to repeat visits, recognize this fluidity and writer who explore them take this into consideration.
The Curators Spotlight features separate, themed exhibits compiled by four curators. The focus on curation above the artist is an unusual concept that is initially interested. From the exhibit catalog, I see that exhibit themes are not based on aesthetics, rather, it is completely conceptual and vague, there is little indication of what to expect visually. I am immediately given the impression that the artwork there is meant to tell a story, and provide the viewer with a window into the process of the artist. It is intriguing. This review focuses on one of the exhibits part of the Curators Spotlight, entitled Mind the Hand, curated by Betsy Johnson.
The Arlington Arts Center is a multi-use functional space in which artists both work and exhibit. In most institutions, work spaces are hidden behind discreet doors, maintaining a polished facade. The AAC seems to embrace the intersection between the process and the resulting work as part of the experience.
The building enlarge is quant and charming and does not feel historical like a museum, commoditized like a gallery, nor grungy like an art studio. A stone building, with white walls and grey wood panel floors, the space is bright, but not the sharp, modern brightness popular in contemporary galleries. There was no stateliness, nor feeling of formality, as commonly felt in a gallery.
Mind the Hand feels like walking into a scene already in motion, where the pieces live, and I was entering their world. All the artworks in this exhibit seem to be quietly alive and imperfect, I felt I had walked into a scene in motion. The very definition of installation art is that it is created within the space in which it is exhibited. It is attached to the physical space, the walls, the floors, and the space becomes the canvas. In this room, Johnson created a scene that felt one with the gallery space, it does feel contrived, and it does not even feel curated. It feels organic, and fluid, in which the individual artworks speak to each other.
The theme of Mind the Hand is a completely conceptual in which the artists intentionally dove into labor-intensive practice in response to fast-paced life. The wall text notes that while the artists were “varied in materials, processes, and end results, they are unified in their belief in the transformative power of making…” I feel that the artists took this concept one step further and were unified even in their use of materials.
The room is lightly divided into two spaces by a partial wall. The hum and beat of “new age” sounding music in deep and melodic tones is apparent in the room. It is coming from a large multimedia installation on the opposite wall and sets the mood for the experience.
Two thirds of the right side of the room is bright and covered with windows, which draws you in the direction of an installation of a dozen thin circles suspended from the ceiling, just below eye level, so they appear to float in the center of the room. Each circle is translucent beige, about the size of a dinner plate, with textured stripes. They remind me of dreamcatchers, or the tightly drawn tops of tribal drums, as they gently sway, twirl and dance upon the air circulating in the room. This dance is intentional. The physical suspension, and translucency would mean that, depending upon the daylight and motion in the room, the work would yield a different visual experience.
Behind the floating circles, is a complex beehive made of clear tape in the window. In one corner is a fabric rectangle the size of telephone booth, and in the other a puddle of fabric, slightly pulled up towards the ceiling and weighted with a metal water bucket. Both are of shimmery, heavy black fabric resembling vinyl. If there was more depth to the “labor-intensive” practice, it was not apparent in these two pieces. They felt a little expected in a contemporary art installation, but did visually anchor the corners of the room.
Adjacent to the circles is a wall installation of silk cocoons attached to the wall as dots in the pattern of the fibonacci sequence spiral. The careful attention this piece must have taken to compose is apparent. Along the same wall, but on the other side of the room, another particular piece that stands out in which hundreds of rustic, shimmering cicada wings were carefully pinned to an approximate four foot square wall space, save a three foot circular opening. This piece caught my attention initially because it it utilizes the basic element of design in shape, a circle within a square is immediately focusing to the viewer, it says “look right here!,” as by visual association with a target, street sign, check box, etc. But take a closer look and you begin to appreciate and experience the process the artist spent in the space, pinning each wing.
Each piece in Mind the Hand deserves thoughtful examination. First appreciate the aesthetic value, and with more time the intentioned theme of labor and craft associated with teach work is impressive. The detailed pieces in this collection changed my perspective about installation art, and how is planned ahead. This collection feels like the pieces were inspired by the space itself, and even by each other.