Expanding ideas

One of the reason’s for suggesting that you consider “What Next” at the end of  a project is so that you might expand your concept free from the (sometimes restrictive) burden of production. Natasha’s original thinking (and making) as she considers this question has yielded a project rich in work potential. Natasha’s interests in social justice issues have created an interesting “through line” from one project to the next. In her “What Next” response she used Adobe Photoshop to combine her three dimensional linear scramble of wire/branch/cotton birds’ nest on top of an archival image of black men working in the south to evoke her concerns about the place of race in consumer America.

The strangeness of the textural quality of Natasha’s sculpture and the flattening of the image into a 2-d black and white form create a sophisticated aesthetic that is simultaneously interesting to look at and conceptually evocative. What is going on here? Is that object part of the scene? Why does it hang off the edge, how does it fit? Is it a sculpture? Is it a photo? Why these men? Why that mass of lines and cotton? Black and whiteness? Messiness?  What is “real?”

This work relates to artist Fred Wilson’s 1992 work “Mining the Museum” at the Maryland Historical Society. In this work he situates objects that have not been shown together to  tell an unusual and very different kind of story about America. For example in the image posted below he discovers in the museum’s archives a white hood from the ku klux klan which he places within a black baby carriage, creating the sense of cradling the “baby” form of the hood in the position of small body. What sort of stories are told through this juxtaposition? What are the iconic qualities of those two objects? What happens from the formal point of view of the use of color–black enfolding white? Baby and Klan? Hear the artist discuss this project:


Fred Wilson: Mining the Museum, 1992, Maryland Historical Society


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Flat into Form

Taking the time time to explore and play is an important aspect of creating. Primarily discovery is delightful–a pleasant (and sustainable!) fact about relationships to people and to materials. The time taken to discover new truths about specific materials can transform a seemingly dull substance into something exciting. The change is even more exciting when the material is mundane, because suddenly the world is full of possibility–there is an opening with light where before you saw a cement slab. Investigating something you “know” (such as notebook paper that you’ve been working with most of your literate life) can be a particular challenge. How can you possibly work with something so dull, so limited, so KNOWN? Notebook paper–flat, defined, categorized, common. Ugh, sigh. Bleh.  Is it possible to make something so common and well, so dull exciting?

a pile of college ruled notebook paper
The Raw Material for project 1

Apparently so. Corrin Shelton breaks out of flat and boring with a simple shape complicated by surface texture. A whole is created through a methodical complex of interwoven strips of notebook paper to make a simple yet spirited monument. A unified whole (the shape) gives a purpose to the ruffled and tattered texture that make it up–defining a world that feels ordered and monumental. In a successful effort to transform flatness into form and life, Shelton creates a graceful sculpture through attention to the play of light along an articulated surface texture, with a clearly defined dialogue of interior to exterior.

A sphere made of shredded notebook paper (glue binder)
Corrin Shelton

Where Shelton stays with an undefined abstract form in her sphere, Hodan Osman alludes to representation and draws on current events which speak to her heart in her homage to “home”. Osman speaks of the piece as being inspired by those rendered homeless by the earthquake in Haiti. Osman, a refugee herself,  has imbued this conical wrap with a pivotal detail: the conical shape is formed by wrapping the flat sheet of notebook paper around itself, and the seem is sewn together, with the lower portion of the shape left unfastened creating a tattered but clear visual entry point into which our eyes (and mind) wander for interest and protection. Like a spiral or a Mobius strip, the cone suggests a connection between the inside and outside, the spiral itself lends a sense of an endless continuum.

a crinkled cone made of notebook paper
Hodan Osman “Home” (after Haiti earthquake)

In Naseem Ghannad’s work,  volume is created from piles upon piles of thin shreds of paper. The mass and density of overlapping linear flat pieces of paper create a surprisingly forceful mountainous shape that belie the wispy forms that make it up. Light and shadow formed by the specific placement of the elements integrate with the materiality of the piece to contribute to the strength of the overall form.

Pile of lengths of shredded notebook paper
Naseem Ghannad’s hill of paper

Devin Alford offers an almost obsessive rendering of the value and beauty of surface texture. When my notebook paper gets a tear, wrinkle or smudge on it, I consider it a blemish. Alford’s form translates my erstwhile blemish into a beauty mark in her playful playground for marks and color. In an interesting allusion to the original use of teh material–college ruled notebook paper–I am interested in the idea that a “mistake” made becomes a star performer. The eraser mark is not a bruise, but an important focal point– making the point that mistakes may simply be good ideas in disguise.

Devin Alford exploration of surface texture

Devin Alford Exploration of Surface Color

And Lorri Finklea plays with the idea of flat becoming form in her study in swirls. When we encounter a piece in three dimensions–that is, if it has length, width and depth, we can no longer see it as flat.

Lorri Finklea considers flat/graphic form

Carroll McWhorter’s work is a primer in disintegration–using materials to destroy and diminish the notebook paper in various ways. Of interest is the way the approach to exploring materials in McWhorter’s case relates to and displays a consistent vision with other ways of working (painting and sculpture). Carroll’s blog/web

Carroll McWhorter’s deteriation

Corrin Shelton designs her form according to an application of specific materials from her life. The resulting form is a monument to specific moments from her day. The panel’s include:

a sculpture based on 12 things I often use.Idid this by cutting 12 strips of paper and coating them in the 12 things I used. These 12 things were: hair jam, glue, chocolate, foundation, milk, lip gloss, chapstick, water, cranberry juice, soap, shampoo, and conditioner. It’s funny to see how the texture dries (or not dries) in the strips of paper.

Corrin’s Log/Web

Corrin Shelton: materials that matter


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Critical Discussion: (left to Right) Devin, Corrin, Kyrie and Siobhan

When good work is present, the audience pays attention. I am so happy when the discussion goes on without me, as there is a demonstration that there is something to talk about, and people who know how to talk about it, and motivation to look, see think, listen–discuss. The portrait of a relationship assignment was exciting because of 12 wildly varied approaches to the expression of some known relationship. Art works when you can tap into the universality of the human experience–how does what your expressing in this particular piece relate to me? When you are less literally descriptive (this is a story about me and my dad when we went walking) and more abstractly suggestive (this is what might happen when you are in a world with someone who is dark and powerful) you are able to include me and my experiences in your work. This is interesting to me in a direct way–it is compelling for me to look at and explore these kinds of relationships. Watching the work on Thursday afternoon during our review of these pieces brought up a number of successful pieces that tapped into some strong human experience. In Lorri Finklea’s portrait is a case where the use of materials directly evokes oppression. An oversized metal screw pierces the metal top of a jam jar, pulling in several layers of cheery cloth squares as it forces it’s cold hard overbearing and inappropriate substantive self into the container full of a clear substance–possibly water. Floating in the jar are several squares of the material, lifeless and defeated in the bottom of the jar. The juxtaposition of materials: Cloth that doesn’t seem to belong in water, the large and oppressive machined metal screw, the violence of the piercing all speak to an oppressive and strange relationship. We see the unnatural relationship of materials and of scale, and we feel uncomfortable. The viewer is presented with a relationship and sees it as an uncomfortable, misaligned and possibly inappropriate power imbalance. It doesn’t matter what the actual story is here–only that it invokes our discomfort with something being overrun in an unnatural way by another thing. This is a perfect example of how the abstract form create a specific sense of a relationship that I can identify. It would be an interesting task to take the very same materials and create a different relationship–how could the same screw, water and materials be comforting instead of menacing?

Lorri Finklea's portrait

Alex Hoffman produced a strong performance about a cousin who is dying. With his death she fears the demise of information about her past and heritage, as he has been a source of knowledge for her. In this work Alex performs the obliteration of information. She is dressed in traditional Hasidic clothing, with a scarf covering her head and a long dress that covers her arms and all of her body. She sits crouched with a book, as she reads the lines  from the book aloud she follows each word with white out–so that her announcement becomes the last known trace of the knowledge. The book is about Jewish heritage. After a moment she invites others to engage in the act, their participation become a  collusion in the destruction of this particular knowledge. As the others erase the words Alex recites a Hebrew prayer aloud.

Alex Hoffman: Reading and Destroying

This “relationship” is complex: Alex’s relationship to her cousin, Alex’s relationship to her past, Alex’s relationship to understanding and knowledge, Alex’s relationship to me (the viewer), the viewer’s relationship to Alex, the viewer’s relationship to Alex’s history, the viewer’s relationship to knowledge of Jewish history…

Others Reading and Destroying: Alex Praying

In another performance piece about absence, Carroll McWhorter sits opposite the form of her father who sits on the steps in the three dimensional form of a military  uniform devoid of a body. The camouflage is splattered with bright yellow paint, and the form is surrounded with multiple tins of chewing tobacco. Sitting ten feet to the right on the very same step, occupying the same amount of space is a live body–the performer–a young woman in stereotypical artist’s garb–black clothing, a white apron, also splattered with the same bright yellow paint, and surrounded by cigarette packs. Above and between the two bodies an electrical cord is strung from the surrounding arch structure connecting the two persons. In the middle of the chord a pair of black boots–laces tied together– hang. The artist lights a cigarette and picks up a drawing board–the drawing board is filled with pages of a poem, hand written and large type, about a daffodil, and a memory. The artist violently rips the poem off of the drawing board page by page, and hurls them into the air until she is finished with her cigarette and her poem. The materials in this piece have strong iconic value–the military and the artist materials create a direct relationship between two characters we know from our culture and which we traditionally consider oppositional. Uniting the unlikely characters with yellow paint (paint ball? painting a picture? Daffodils?) and with positioning creates a direct dialogue of one with the other. The framing on the outdoor stage and the electrical cord create a physical and metaphorical connection between the two. We are left with the understanding of two forms occupying the same space, connected but separate.

Carroll McWhorter, performance

In another piece about absence, Siobhan Keeve uses materials to very simply and directly discuss the prospect and failure of making a connection. In a piece installed in Alston Campus Center near the cafe, Keeve has created a form that consists of two oversized metal cans connected by a single strand of thirty feet of various types of cord. The cultural connection is to our childhood game of “telephone” where we play at talking to our friend through this crude and simple construction. The game as a child is delightful and full of interplay and dialogue. This rendition however is full of isolation. Each can is so far away from teh other that the hope of actually hearing one from the other is impossible. The use of scale further isolates us–the exaggerated can size (the can’s aren’t from a single serving but from a restaurant supply size) suggests that we are trying to play like children, but things don’t quite fit. The placement of the can far away, around the corner, by itself, is sad and alone. The placement and simplicity of the materials in this case speak of an illusive concept of communication. Implicit in the idea communication is a relationship. The inaccessibility of any connection in this relationship gives us a bleak sense about the relationship being portrayed here.

Siobhan Keeve "telephone"

Corrin Shelton displays a direct display of  the subtleties involved in a relationship through the surface effect of materials on two plaster spheres. The quietude of this pair express a somber and detailed beauty and sadness. The distance between the two create a sense of personal distance. These two spheres, though clearly “cut of the same cloth” are not intimate. The lighting and battered surface of the one, and the polished surface of the other, alongside the strewn detritus surrounding her,  suggest that we are witnesses to the aftermath of a battle.

Corrin Shelton: Boyfriend/ExBoyfrined

On a much cheerier note, Dani Adamson was able to create an integrated picture of the love her grandmother shared with her in “Nest”. Nest is made of disparate linear elements that are loosely interwoven in a circular pattern and painted with a warm metallic color to unify and integrate them. The color is earth like, but mad made, as is the form of the next. Discovering the nest hidden in an outside bush, under a ramp and nestled into a tree, is an instant delight. The nest is lit with a spot light from below (unseen as the light is camouflaged by a bush) as well as with a warm light with a string that hangs down above it–so that when you are sleepy you can just reach up and turn it off, and if you get scared you can just reach up and turn it on. This delightful integration of manmade and natural materials, combined with man-made and natural light and positioned within a man-made and natural environment exudes a warm and happy intertwined relationship that is well-centered, and has a strong nourishing organic structure, and an understanding of the strength of who we are and what we make.

Dani Alford: Nest

Kyrie Himebrook: Dreamweaver

Kyrie Himebrook created a creepy portrait of a relationship to subconscious forces. In an eerie personification of these waking dream states, Himebrook created Dreamweaver whom we maybe notice perching in a tree. The form blends into the bark of the Magnolia on which she sits, but once noticed she stands out blatantly. She is a crouching personage, roughly the size of teh artist, with spindly insect-like arms and legs that are folded up beside her alarmingly life-like six-breasted torso. Her head is a monkey-like, grey, skull structure with hollow over sized eye sockets for eyes. If we notice her in the tree, it is because of the only bright colored object on her, neon colored beads that hang down from the strange series of knots that create a focal point at the join of her legs and the base of an apparently soft belly. This form resembles a traditional native-American Dreamcatcher–used to mount in rooms to “catch” nightmares. Himebrook successfully harnesses the stuff of nightmares in this form.

Kyrie Himebrook: Dreamweaver (detail)


Morgan Daniel uses surface texture, form and color to create a portrait of the relationship of the artist to her many self characters in a display of a single “egg” that sits on a pedestal literally outside of the artist’s bedroom. We approach and interact with the egg to help it “hatch” a person within, and a person within that and a person within that, all treated with various materials to express teh characteristics of that particular character. One is bound, one is rough…finally we are treated at the very end to the smallest, inermost and most protected character: the artist.

Morgan Daniel: many selves

Naseem Ghannad shows us a wave form to portray the nature of relationship itself. The cardboard earth-colored form performs the act of creating a natural dialogue between inside/outside; up / down; front / back; light/shadow–all qualities that act in relationship to each other mimicking the dialogue and interaction of one person to another. In Ghannad’s work the ground upon which the line of connected waves are formed acts as the circumstances — the natural ups and downs — that define a relationship.

Naseem Ghannad: feet and waves

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