Saturday, November 13, 2010

Habitat could be habit forming….

The current installation at Anderson Creative Gallery is not your typical “art show”. I suggest one channel their inner Alice (as in Wonderland) and follow the White Rabbit through a journey of pseudo reality. Like Alice, that which appears to be real, really is, and that which appears to be the result of some hallucinogenic mushroom, may just be the case as well. Be prepared to spend some time at the gallery because the premise of this installation lies in its story which is mounted on large sheets of paper next to each specimen and its accompanying images.  Eight of our local artists have teamed up to create this contemporary tribute to natural science museums.

Craig Joseph, the lucky recipient of a mysterious trunk full of re-gifted Field Museum treasures has done his curatorial duties and staged all the finds in a logical progression of discovery. The only missing element which I wanted to see would have been the original journals of Steph(v)en Thomas Buckonhalt Andergan from which the wall pieces were recreated for our reading pleasure. Since we have the words, surely the journal itself could have been displayed under a plexiglass box. Because of the copious amounts of copy, I suggest one brings their own stool upon which to sit which is exactly what some viewers did several days ago.

There are 12 “units” in the show.  Erin Mulligan created 4 fantastical creatures in her signature oil paintings (I will say it again, she is wasting her time in Northeast Ohio, the girl needs to take her talents to the main stage). The sculptors came up with four mutant monstrosities and the author Steven Shumaker penned four of the journal entries. The artists then shared their concepts with each other, creating their own signature pieces to flesh out each unit to contain all of the necessary components. The overall idea was conceived nine months ago so in essence, these collaborators have birthed a rather large baby and we viewers follow along on its journey of discovery.

All twelve stations are fairly consistent in presentation. One is to read the journal entry (with tongue planted firmly in cheek), look at the painted image, view a photograph of the characters in staged recreations of the event, then view a model mock up of the critter involved. These set ups do mimic typical natural history museum layouts, particularly those of older institutions like the Smithsonian and Chicago’s Field Museum. Because I don’t ever take anything too seriously, it was no surprise to find a little Puff the Magic Dragon mixed in with Doctor Seuss. 

A few pieces to note are the beetle by Joseph Close, the Stumphumper by Kevin Anderson and the photographs of Stephen McNulty and Jeremy Aronhalt. The two aforementioned sculptural recreations are the most authentic “museum” style pieces that are perhaps best situated near the beginning so as one becomes immersed in the fantasy, one becomes more accepting of the mutated monsters set forth. Like a good cheesy Syfy movie, sure there giant shark/octopus things just waiting to prey on bikini-clad sorority girls, as long as there is action and gore, bring on the buggers! I found the photos humorous in their use of Metropark-like scenery substituting for equatorial Africa but in a sophisticated state of irony, that is the perfect setting in which to stage such satire. I can just envision my 85 year old in-laws on their daily towpath walk encountering a photo shoot in mid production. 

Once more, this gallery has set about to expose the Canton community to art that exists outside the box and nowhere near the comfort zone of many.  What stages here is merely a taste of some of the more “unusual” installations one may encounter in the big cities on our coasts.  While many in our area are embracing this space with anticipation each month as to what will be the next “event”, there are those who are voicing discontent with the continued emphasis on long passages of text with each show.  Well…if one does not like the reader friendly portion of this presentation, then ditch the white rabbit and join up with the Mad Hatter to consider this a walk in pop-up picture book.

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