In part two of the Sculpture MFA Thesis Exhibition, which features the work of five second-year School of Arts students, many of the installations are rooted in actions that took place before and during the show’s opening last Thursday. Through the actions they reference, the pieces draw the viewer into the context of their own creation.
Even if you missed Noel Anderson’s ART ’10 performance last week in the gallery in Green Hall on Chapel Street, the layout of the objects in the space begins to reveal what once happened in the main room of the gallery. The space, arranged like a stage, currently has a cassette rack, a chair for an MC and a dirt stage framed by soft interlocking floor mats for performers. The mats mark a kind of childish boundary between the audience and the show. A single remaining camera stand without a camera on it suggests that something was filmed or photographed. Three large plastic trays on the dirt stage in the middle of the room are filled with water. What happened here?
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On the night of the opening, in a sculpture that merged performance with stationary objects, Anderson and three assisting students, performed a cross between a concert and a choreographed dance in the main gallery space. The show began with a slow soul song that came through speakers in the back of the room and was lip-synced by one of Anderson’s helpers. Anderson and another student danced in the background. Later, Anderson and two assistants sat down on the stage around three brownish blocks of ice in plastic trays. In the most gripping and revolting moment of the show, Anderson began eating, rubbing and spitting out bits of the three, dirty ice blocks, while his assistants sat and blew on the one closest to the audience.
Throughout the show, Anderson repeated the words “focus, focus” in short bursts. These exclamations gave voice to the key elements of the performance — focus and intensity — and prevented the show from falling into absurdity.
The sculptures left in the space, the debris from the performance — melted water from the ice blocks, boxes, a camera stand — are meaningful in light of their purposes during the performance, but they lose their force without it. Among the objects that remain at the gallery, the most interesting is a print from an etching, which played no direct role in the show. There are five similar prints in total, which look like drawings of rust on silver and suggest human figures and letters but are very abstract.
Tamar Ettun’s ART ’10 exhibit, “365 Objects,” also draws its strength from alluding to actions — in this case, to actions in the past. The premise of the show, which is on display in the two adjoining rooms of the Edgewood Sculpture Gallery, is a series of 365 sculptures that Ettun made, one on each day of the year. In the first room the works are on two plywood racks of shelves around 8 to 10 feet high. These small sculptures — such as a metal grater with pills stuck in the grating holes or a motor-bike chain with a rubber ball and foam object atop it — act like an extremely personal calendar, each demarcating one specific day of this past year. It’s rare and unnerving to encounter a personal documentation of an entire year. This piece is effective both as a personal collection and as a reference to an objective block of the past.
In the second room a parachute is attached to the ceiling. Strings tied to the edge of the parachute connect it to a number of containers on the floor — mostly bottles and cans that are all painted blue or blue-green. The entire arrangement looks like an enormous, fallen mobile.
The sculpture in the second room of the gallery initially appears to be completely distinct from the show in the first room, but it is not. In the first room, among the objects on the rack, there is a picture of the parachute stuck in a tree with people hanging off of it, as if it had just landed. During the opening, an orange tube blew compressed air into the parachute, suggesting some kind of take-off. Both the sculptures on the rack and the parachute refer obliquely to the time before the show. And the parachute-mobile suggests not only the idea of having once been air-born — conveyed by the picture of the tree — but also the possibility of future flight.
Through different means, Anderson and Ettun force the viewer to interact with them on their terms. Ettun takes stock of her past and reveals an index to the viewer, hinting at various moments in her life before the show, while Anderson’s performance creates a space and a time frame that the viewer can choose to enter, but can hardly decide to leave.