Monday, November 03, 2003

Art: Online Art Gallery

Online Art Gallery


A little while back I mentioned taking some time out to photograph an art exhibit thus providing for an opportunity to have a dialog about it. Well, at last, it is done!



I've had a small number of conversations with Lynn Aldrich and found her passion for her craft inspiring and her honesty about art's place in society and the life of faith thoughtful. When she mentioned that an exhibit of her work would be coming up soon, I broached the idea of developing a web based discussion about it and was delighted when she agreed to the idea.

The process of art involves people dropping in for a look and then taking away their own interpretations and impressions without meeting the artist face-to-face. Part of that often will take the shape of a "party game" of telling stories about the art. A picture or object is seen and then speculation takes place. This is part of the enjoyment and understanding of art. This stimulates creative discussions and often if two or more individuals are participating they can come up with completely different ideas. Of course, this takes merely a few minutes and nothing is written down and in nearly all cases the artist never knows of the myriad of random comments that get made.

When Aldrich agreed to this project, she asked me not to read the exhibit catalog (I only read the page that gave the titles to the works, materials used and dimensions) that has some essays about the works by her and other artists. She wanted the art work to speak for itself. This ground rule was an explicit statement of what implicitly happens when an artist hangs her work in the gallery.

However, this web "dialog" departs from the usual art process in that the artist gets to see in writing the thoughts of two viewers. We will also get to see brief comments from the artist. This is a luxury an art viewer and artist normally don't get.

My background is that of a molecular biologist. My extended comments are marked (R). To further simulate the experience of a typical art visit, the essays below also include some brief remarks from Beth, my friend who is a philosophy of religion graduate student. Her comments are marked (B). Aldrich's comments are marked (LA).

Now, please come into the gallery via the internet.

The exhibit entitled, "Research and Development" runs from October 11 to November 8, 2003.
Carl Berg Gallery
6018 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm

Photography notes: Images were captured on traditional 35mm film -- Fuji 1600 and Kodak 400 ASA print film -- in a Pentax ZX-M and ZX-5N with 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses. An 80A color correction filter was used along with a tripod. Samy's Camera in-house photo processing was used.

(1) "Far Out" (2002) Modeling compound, gesso, acrylic, oil on lampshade, 14" x 28" x 10"

(2) "Worm Hole" (2003) Fake fur on cardboard tubes, 48" x 48" x 25'

R: When I stepped into the Carl Berg Gallery, to the left was this yellow orb. Emotions are states of mind and associated with colors. We think of being red-faced with anger, green with envy and feeling blue. Cartoon smiling faces are yellow circles with two dots for eyes and an upturned arc for a smile. When I saw the fluorescent yellow, I felt a warm welcome.

The other thought that came to mind was the yellow orb of the sun in the sky. The color hung there. Upon closer inspection, you'll discover this object was a lampshade with the inside painted the bright, happy yellow color. A playful optical illusion by the artist.

B: The exhibit is entitled, "Research and Development." How does this theme connect the works of art?

R: Good question. This work appeared to be a continuation of Aldrich's explorations of the usage of color on the interior of lampshades that create optical illusions and evoke a response in the viewer. To see another example of this type of work, go to this Calvin College exhibit and see the work entitled, "The Violet Hour."

Perhaps she thinks of her body of work as in progress: developing new concepts, refining old ones and researching new ways to create visual stories? "Violet Hour" might be like an earlier exploration of communicating ideas with that media. She is an experimentalist.

LA: This whole idea of Rene's to do an on-line conversation is a welcome adventure. I'm somewhat apprehensive that my verbal contribution will dissolve the dialogical energy, since I'm the one who made the visual stuff. I'd much rather watch you guys "go for it" because I've already stared at these things for the longest time in my studio and feel pretty myopic at this point. I'll just say that I strive for complex analogies embedded within simple constructs. And for me, the activity of being an artist is an ongoing investigation of existence (research) resulting in the production of material objects (development).

R: As I entered the first large room of the gallery, my eye was immediately drawn to the large object on the floor. It was a series of connected tubes of increasing diameter. At the small end, a lit light bulb sat.

Colored materials lined the interior of the tubes. At the light bulb end the materials were dark colors. As the diameter expands and moves away from the bulb, the colored materials were lighter.

Having grown up watching too much science fiction, I thought of a worm hole, the hypothetical distortions in the universe that can connect very distant locations. Click here to read more than you'll ever want to know or understand about them.

The choice of including a light bulb at one end and light fabric at the other may have some meaning? Thus, both ends were illuminated but in different ways. The light bulb's intensity was not sustained all the way to the end of the tubing. Yet, the fabric at the other end was a light bright color.

To see three more pictures of this object, click here.

We often think of light metaphorically as illumination of the mind or understanding (the light bulb went on above their heads) and so this worm hole connecting two distant points was illuminated at both ends. Perhaps this is a visual story of the inter-relationship of ideas. In this case: how two distant ideas can be connected in some way and be illuminating simultaneously in different ways.

B: Maybe this is a symbol for inner transformation caused by the "light of the world" (Christ metaphor). This process of transformation/sanctification takes time. At the end of the process, we are made like Christ, bright/yellow and holy. We are bigger people--hence the larger spheres.

R: I like that idea. Perhaps that is the connection between the two distant points? I'll be very curious to hear the narrative of the artist about this complex piece.

LA: I can only say that I am humbled and inspired by your theological interpretations, as well as by your acute perceptual observations of physical objects, a practice I had assumed would be underdeveloped in the on-line generation. In "Worm Hole", as in other works, I am not interested in narrative reads but rather in more slippery, layered metaphors which you are already tapping into. I consider the various materials themselves to generate meaning which is always already present (something like Incarnation). My job is to make decisions about how to present this meaning (scale, arrangement, amount, site, etc.) while interfering as little as possible.

(3) "Fling and Catch" (2003) Thread, paper tape, dimensions variable

(4) "Sea Change" (2003) Sponges, scrubbers, brushes, scouring pads on plastic tub, 25" x 23" x 18"

R: The next object I examined was the corner one. It was practically impossible to capture it on film. Aldrich told me that the pro photographers had trouble with it too. It was colored threads and white tape. Was it conceptual art? A couple of years ago, I was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles and there was a series of panels with pencil marks. The docent explained that the marks were placed within certain "rules" set by the artist. Thus, the work was conceptual because it could be reproduced anywhere by following the rules governing its produciton. The rules provided some constraint, yet flexibility to yield variety and interesting patterns. Those rules were not obvious and so the marks seemed random and in a sense they were, yet, they fall within the confines of the "rules."

Were there some "rules" to the selection of colored threads? Their length? Their positioning? These three dimensions, degrees of freedom, defined this object. Merely three, yet in various combinations chosen by the artist, the result was something beautiful and intriguing.

With the title, "Fling and Catch," perhaps Aldrich was paying homage to Jackson Pollack who was noted for dripping and splashing paint. Here Aldrich is tossing threads and taping them down. Pollack's work seemed random but nobody can replicate his work. There was, as it were, a method to his madness.

What does this say about the nature of what is aesthetically appealing? Total symmetry induces boredom. Total chaos induces revulsion. What does that say about how life is to be lived?

LA: In "Fling and Catch", I was thinking about how spiders will seem to fling themselves out into the middle of nowhere and try to catch on something when I came across a poem by Walt Whitman which mentions that very phenomenon ("The Noiseless, Patient Spider"). So I made a couple of rules for myself in the construction of the piece -- each thread will be a unique color (the largest version has all 200 colors of sewing thread made by Coats and Clark). Every thread has to start on one wall of a corner and cross in a straight line to the opposite wall without altering the trajectory of the other threads.

R: There seems to be some ironic humor in the bright colors of these mundane objects. What could be more mundane than doing the dishes, the thankless chore of daily life? Yet, here before the viewer was a tub socked full of various dish cleaning accessories and its bright colors radiate a cheery feeling. Is the artist merely having some fun? Could the artist be making a bigger statement?

In an exchange before my photo shoot, I asked Aldrich about the conventions of titles for art works to which she said:
As far as titles go, I do select my titles carefully and consider them part of the work. They might nudge the viewer in a particular direction or open up a window on meaning. However, the work has to be interesting to look at without the title, and some viewers probably never even read the titles.
The item above was entitled, "Sea Change." I began to think tangential and in symbolic terms. Change and transformation require hard work and often daily effort (like washing dishes). For some odd reason I thought of the Shawn Colvin song, "Sunny Came Home" (1998). That song has a haunting sound and tortured lyrics. Within the song itself, there is no backstory, we don't know why Sunny needs to gather her children, burn her house down and flee. We only know that to resist change would cost more than changing everything drastically. We only know that in the end, there is a sense of liberation in making the change:
Oh light the sky and hold on tight...
The world is burning down,
She's out there on her own -
and she's alright.
Sunny came home...

Perhaps "Sea Change" was a picture of life change, of cleansing, of transformation and a bright and hopeful one at that? After we experience transformation in life, we can look back with some humor and recognize the multitudinous implements that helped bring it about. Don't we often say of interesting people that they lived a colorful life?

B: This to me looked like a tide pool with sea anenomes in it. Who knows what it could mean but it made me laugh!

LA: Yes, I think this piece is humorous. It also brings up questions of reality and illusion, biodiversity and the wonders of commercial product design. Beneath the whimsy, is my (ineffectual) but sincere longing to "clean up" the oceans.

(5) "Clean Water Act" (2003) Hose, pipes, acrylic on wood, 34" x 26" x 4"

(6) "Serpentarium" (2002) Garden hose, cable ties, plastic, 30" x 25" x 25"

R: The next object seemed to me like the "Far Out" piece: an optical illusion. Up close, I can see that it is cut up pieces of PVC pipes, hoses and other assorted round tubular objects of varying diameters, thicknesses, height and colors. But looking straight on, I see bubbles. Imagine a big aquarium with lots of bubbles rising up along the glass. In fact, so many bubbles that that is about all you see.

Life at times is not what it seems. Here objects associated with the transport of water when looked at a different way look like objects that transport air.

When I found out the title of the work was, "Clean Water Act," my impressions went in another direction. I looked at it again. I thought: coral. One indicator of the health of an ocean eco-system is the health of its coral. These tubes with their colors and sizes together formed a texture that made me think of coral.

B: Perhaps it takes many different hoses owned by many different types of people to actually have a successful clean water act. It takes participation on the local level--individuals need to be involved; represented by the many different individual hoses. Does this have anything to do with the "living water?" Living water being another Christ metaphor.

R: Having seen a photo of "Garden Story" which was exhibited at Calvin College, this piece looked familiar. The garden hose as snake in Eden was a menacing image there. That impression was provoked by this work as well. It is even more frightening because the plastic tie "teeth" stick out of the maw of the monster.

I must again confess to having seen too many science fiction films because as I walked around and looked at this object, I found myself remembering the film Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi - Episode Six. For fans of the film, do you remember the crazy looking creature in the desert of Tatooine that was about to be feed Luke, Han and the rest of our heros?

These were my impression before I saw the title to this object. After finding out that it was called, "Serpentarium." The sense of fear became greater. Planetarium, an enclosed place to see stars projected on a curved dome. Aquarium, an enclosed space with water and creatures that live in water. Terrarium, an enclosed container where soil and plants interact to form an environment. Key word: enclosed. Imagine being trapped in something like a Serpentarium? Drat, those movie images come to mind again! Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy and Marion are trapped with a bunch of snakes underground?

Trapped. And trapped in ordinary materials: garden hose and plastic ties. I was talking with a friend a month ago. He was observing: people understand that the mass murderer is evil, the violent person is evil and other really obvious things are evil. But what we don't understand is that evil is also the little things like selfishness, ingratitude, unforgiveness and indifference. These little things are like the rot that makes houses collapse and the mold that spoils food. The temptation of the Garden was not some terrible and obvious overt evil and so it is often for us today.

B: Why does Aldrich use lamp shades and garden hoses? She has been doing many works with these materials.

R: Research and development?

(7) "Pools and Windows" (2003) Gold leaf paint, acrylic, oil on book pages mounted on museum board, 87" x 148"

(8) "Dark Glass" (2002) Corrigated plastic, fiberglass, 37" x 27" x 10"

R: This object was huge. It was made up of individual panels. For a moment, I thought it might have been magazine pictures cut out and pasted on top of the gold paint but upon closer inspection, I think it was the other way around with the paint covering the photos. In some cases, the image that shows through was a swimming pool, in others a window showed through. In some cases I think there was a picture of the sky and the gold paint formed the frame of the window. I didn't check every panel in the work but I'm guessing no two panels were alike. To see six more images of different panels up close click here.

What was the message here? Since there were so many panels, would each panel have a story? Or were they all variations on the same theme?

Given that all the panels were different, perhaps there was some kind of message about individuality? People who own nice homes can choose their windows and swimming pools as a reflection of their individual tastes. But in a home, there are many other items that can reflect the owner's personality. What is it about windows and pools? Windows are the portals to view the outside world. Pools are the place of leisure. Might there be some message about those choices? What do they tell us about the person or society making those choices?

Then there was the choice of gold colored paint. Would the meaning of the art work be different if another color was choosen? Gold is the color of wealth. Wealth interacting with choices tells us about people/societies and their values.

B: Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Does beauty need anyexplanation?

LA: In some ways, this work, "Pools and Windows," is actually an overt cliche of beauty, with an inherent accompanying sadness over that problem -- heavy gold leaf paint over pages of "heavenly blue" designer swimming pools for the rich and famous. I wanted to title this piece "Poolside Baptism with Light Therapy", but I didn't trust my instincts. The reality is that I live in a city (El Lay) where people walk around looking fabulously refreshed, physically and spiritually, but it's a desert.

R: The final object in this tour of the Aldrich exhibit was on the south wall. It looked like plastic materials of varying degrees of opacity. The lightest one was on the top and the progression was toward darker pieces. It would appear that was an optical illusion like "Far Out" and "Clean Water Act."

The item was entitled, "Dark Glass," further suggesting the optical illusion intent for the item was made of plastic. But the combination of the plastic together formed the optical characteristics of a dark glass. Click here for two more views of this object.

St. Paul described our earthly life as looking through a glass darkly. Because of this, some people would say religious faith is anti-thetical to reason. But is that really true? In life, we are always working with partial knowledge. If we could only decide upon a course of action with 100% certainty, we would never act. As a scientist, the idea of degrees of certainty about what we perceive is something I interact with daily. We use our partial knowledge to form a hypothesis and proceed to experimentation and then re-evaluate.

Having sat in jury duty once on a criminal case, I had to face the practical application of the phrase, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Interestingly, in law, there are degrees of certainty also. Criminal law has the strictest standard, "beyond a reasonable doubt." In civil law, the standard is the looser, "preponderance of the evidence." And in an pre-trial hearing, the standard is "probable cause."

What standard of certainty do we ask for when we have to make decisions in our lives? I suppose that is why one virtue promoted by Christianity is humility. We see another human being through dark glasses and can't know their full story. We see the future through dark glasses and can only plan knowing plans can be changed.

LA: Utopian modernists said we could know everything and make it fit into a master narrative. Contemporary postmodernists (after their thinking filters down to the masses) say we can't know anything because whatever I think up is as good a guess as whatever you think up or anybody else. But somewhere in-between is St. Paul who, simultaneously acknowledges both knowledge and mystery as the complimentary attributes of reality.

About the artist

Aldrich was born in Texas but grew up in many places being from a military family. She obtained a BA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina. Later, she earned a BA in Fine Arts from California State University at Northridge and then a MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Her work has been exhibited in numerous galleries, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and many other venues. Her art has been profiled in various publications such as Los Angeles Times, Artweek, New York Times, L.A. Weekly, and Artforum. She has taught at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She works at a studio in downtown Los Angeles.

Click here to see some other works by Aldrich that can be found on the Internet.

I thank the staff at the Carl Berg Gallery for the opportunity to photograph this exhibit and Lynn Aldrich for arranging the photo shoot and discussions about her work.

The Carl Berg Gallery opened in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles in late September of 2003 and has a wonderful space for displaying art. If you are ever in the neighborhood, contact them with the information below to see what is on exhbit and enjoy a visit.
Carl Berg Gallery
6018 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm



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