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Art: Can You Follow Directions?

The Paper Sculpture Show crumples up the rules

By Laura James · September 6th, 2006 · Visual Art
  Shape shifting: an example from the CAC's Paper Sculpture Show

Shape shifting: an example from the CAC's Paper Sculpture Show

The Contemporary Arts Center's (CAC) Paper Sculpture Show messes everything up. The 29 participating artists lose their typical artist designation -- as the "solitary mastermind."

Instead, they transfer an idea onto a sheet (or two or three) of paper and write step-by-step instructions for the "viewer." The instructions promise to transform the flat sheets into sculpture.

You, as the visitor, are no longer just a passive viewer of art. You choose your artist, and you work. Stations are set up, complete with scissors, glue sticks, tape and pencils.

Sit down at your station and get to work.

Ostensibly, given the exhibition's organization, there should be 29 different sculptures, each representing the idea of a single artist, repeated over and over again, sitting on the tables and pinned to the walls. Quite clearly, though, this arrangement is not at all what came to be.

Yes, there are the perfectly shaped recycling bins with crumpled balls of paper inside holding truths that ought be tossed away, just as artist Ester Partegàs' papers tell her worker to do. No doubt, either, that many took advantage of Rachel Harrison's Straws and Spitballs. There are the paper hands and boats and boxes, in all their attention to the step-by-step instructions.

Yet something quite extraordinary also takes shape in The Paper Sculpture Show -- personality. In a wonderful display of creativity and amusement on the part of the non-artist (the worker, the drone, you), dozens of intricate and fanciful sculptures have come to light that have nothing to do with the rules. Some are even signed.

The exhibition seems a little childish in its artsy-craftsy production, though I promise you it's not. The simplicity is a deception. The cut-up pieces of paper on the floor, the mess in the gallery are not what it appears. The point is a smart one. The point begins with a question: What is the role of the viewer?

Not only does The Paper Sculpture Show flip traditional notions of art and how it is made, it shifts the issues of artwork's meaning, artists' intent and the satisfaction of creative urge from the artist to the viewer. As such, the viewer is no longer a pair of eyes, but a thinking, imaginative, operational being.

The role of the viewer has long been debated. This CAC exhibition is easily one of the most up-front arguments that have come to pass. We, the flock of visitors, the eyes, have been granted a special position. Now we are participants in all aspects.

That's the argument. It's not just about following directions; it's about thinking and working and imagining things. It's about viewers taking art to the next level. Instead of being some passive object, it is a thing to be worked on and thought about and interested in. It's about making the art object your own. Grade: A

The Paper Sculpture Show continues at the CAC through Nov. 5.


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