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Spirited In the Material World

Weston exhibit showcases imaginative pieces from a range of materials

By Kathy Schwartz · December 21st, 2011 · Visual Art
arts1_(l-r)haberkornpeter_terryberlier_photo_tonywalshPhoto by Tony Walsh
Material Witness at downtown’s Weston Art Gallery is all about the physical. The stuff of hardware stores — plywood, drywall, insulation — remains exposed in the work. If there’s a common thread, it’s the artists’ “careful and considerate material choices,” guest curator Matt Distel says.

But art is shaped from ideas plus materials. The viewer/witness also wants to see the message in the medium. Knock on wood, you will.

Creative ideas meet basic materials at the “Open Source Project Space (prototype),” a kind of backyard-theater set from Philip Spangler. The nomadic structure, which Spangler built with Aaron Walker, is an extension of CS13, the recently closed gallery and performance venue they founded in Over-the-Rhine. 

Cardboard walls fold down to reveal an 8-by-8-foot room that could be “an exhibition space, performance stage, reading room, information kiosk and store,” according to the literature in tubes hanging from the structure. Inside, three shelves fold out. A padded bench is the only furniture. It’s not much to look at, but it is a lot to think about. 

“The material has the suggestion of what might be something else in the real world,” Spangler says. The stage floor is cardboard, “but in the real world, (it would be) something you can walk on.”  

Spangler is providing “the conceptual building blocks for creating a community of artists,” Distel says. 

It’s fitting that Spangler’s work was an early building block for this group exhibit. Distel, now executive director of Visionaries and Voices and previously with the Contemporary Arts Center and Country Club, approached Weston Director Dennis Harrington about working together again. Distel curated his first Weston show in 2000. Harrington responded that he had “half an idea” for an exhibition, two artists and a title, Material Witness.

In addition to Spangler, Harrington had lined up Matthew Flegle, whose “Bewilderness” could be considered the exhibit’s iconic sculpture.

A moose-like beast appears to have emerged from a wall that still holds the mold for its smooth, magnificent horn. But the rest of the animal is rough. Still-recognizable Styrofoam insulation and concrete form the creature’s body and three hooves. Its fourth leg is a pair of steel studs minimally decorated with glitter and stuck in a plastic bucket. 

Flegle, a teacher at the Columbus College of Art and Design, refers to the work as an “open-ended mythology.” In his notes he describes the animal as “compromised by calamity, disoriented, blinded and hobbled by its circumstances.” The sculpture is a reminder that it’s never easy to break free of the mold.

If Flegle is holding up a mirror to the human condition, then local artist Peter Haberkorn is holding a window to our follies and fears. His art is about deconstruction, reconstruction and “recontextualizing” materials as he plays around with what’s inside and outside. 

A peek into the windows of a small (8-by-8-by-6.5 feet) pool house reveals a flurry of fan-blown feathers. Haberkorn discovered the building on walks through Clifton and took it off the owner’s hands. Though viewing a winter wonderland inside a summertime shed is a little disorienting, Haberkorn’s use of materials is so honest. The fans are exposed, the exterior paint is peeling and moss still clings to shingles. The scene, he says, was inspired by childlike dreams and pillow fights. 

Opposite the installation is a front door with a view to Haberkorn’s nightmare. Through the window, we witness “Margaux and Felix Taking a Walk in the Nuclear Winter,” two mannequins with taxidermy dogs on leashes. Felix is wearing a gas mask and she a welding helmet. Though they appear to be in their living room, both are bundled up and there is “snow” at their feet. Despite the oddness of the setting, the message is clear.

Meanwhile, Design 99 — the duo of former Cincinnatian Gina Reichert and husband Mitch Cope — is re-imagining apocalyptic scenes in Detroit. Videos document their efforts to “activate” foreclosed homes in their neighborhood, which is their studio. Boards that covered windows are now ramps in a house-turned-skatepark. It’s up to artists “to glue what’s already there,” says Cope, “and bring people back to the community.”

A mural of black, white and gray triangles illustrates Design 99’s “sculpture security systems,” which are colorful plywood wedges jammed into openings to deter burglars. The idea came from the wartime painting of submarines with “razzle-dazzle” camouflage.  Materials are used in a way to “confuse, dazzle and delight. It repels but is attractive,” Reichert says. “People don’t know how to mess with something they don’t understand.” 

Chris Vorhees is trying to understand consumerism and our disposable society while satisfying his curiosity about materials and process. The clever local artist/cabinetmaker pokes fun at our desire to acquire with “Sofa Server.” The discovery of a discarded box for a bentwood side table on wheels — marked down to $3.99 — prompted Vorhees to try to replicate the design. About $2,000 later, he figured it out. I’m still trying to figure out if the joke is on him or on us. 

Suspended from the ceiling and 30-feet wide, Terry Berlier’s installation cannot be missed. But her message might be. Berlier, who attended Colerain High School with Distel and teaches at Stanford, cut sheets of plywood into concentric hoops to represent tree rings and “give a physicalness to time.” As you study her art, Berlier wants you to think about how your brief history intersects with the environment’s. Yet during a gallery talk with the artist, witnesses saw ribs, a giant Slinky and other forms. It’s a shame not to see the forest or the tree. ©

MATERIAL WITNESS is on view through Feb. 26 at the Weston Art Gallery (650 Walnut St., Downtown). For more info, visit www.westonartgallery.com.



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