Devin Borden – “Winter Garden” Exhibit (Houston, TX)

Artists Left to Right: Laura Lark, Hilary Wilder, Margaret Smithers-Crump, & Paul Kittelson

Artists Left to Right: Laura Lark, Hilary Wilder, Margaret Smithers-Crump, & Paul Kittelson

For those of who you haven’t been to Texas during the ‘colder’ months, winters in Houston are rather dispassionate. It’s not warm enough to make it a destination for those who live up north, but not cold enough to warrant an escape either. It is, for all intensive purposes, drab and unremarkable.

Charles Wiese "Alcove" 2011: Digital media on German etching paper 2/3

Charles Wiese “Alcove” 2011: Digital media on German etching paper 2/3

Perhaps this is why I was so intrigued by the most recent show at Devin Borden Gallery, which ran from early December to Jan 10th. Entitled “Winter Garden,” the group exhibit celebrates the ironically unseasonable allure of winter colors, textures, and atmospheres – associations that remain somewhat alien to native Houstonians. It figures that it was a cold, overcast day when I finally had the opportunity to see the show, lending a subtle and thematic ambiance to the entire experience.

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“Vertical Emptiness” – Yasuaki Onishi on Material Ethereality

yasuaki-onishi-vertical-emptiness-kyoto-procured-design

Photo : Oshima Takuya

Many of you may remember the work of contemporary artist Yasuaki Onishi, whose site-specific installations investigate varying notions of mass and volume. For his most recent exhibit at the Kyoto Art Center, the artist integrated new materials into his process – namely gathered tree branches and crystalized urea. The installation, entitled “Vertical Emptiness,” plays to the familiar atmospheric resonances of his previous work, but with an untried organic quality.

yasuaki-onishi-vertical-emptiness-detail-drawing-wall-procured-design

Photo : Oshima Takuya

yasuaki-onishi-vertical-emptiness-installation-detail-procured-design

Photo : Oshima Takuya

The installation itself is comprised of two complementary pieces: a two-dimensional work spanning the entire back wall and a large-scale installation filling most of the exhibition space. There is a theatrical disparity between them, especially concerning volume, tone, and texture.

It would be difficult to intuit without an explanation, but the processes used to create both pieces are strikingly similar. At their core, both works start out as wood. Whereas the two-dimensional piece is comprised of a series of milled and manufactured wooden panels, the central installation consists of fallen tree branches. However, both works are subsequently coated with layers of hot glue (the difference of course being the application process).

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Into the Abyss – An Inside Take on James Turrell’s “Ganzfeld” Light Installations

James Turrell, Acro, Green, 1968, projected light, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

James Turrell, Acro, Green, 1968, projected light, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

One of my final farewell visits before leaving Houston was to the MFAH. It seems strange to part ways with favorite artworks, but I had grown accustom to visiting the immense Cai Guo-Qiang dynamite drawing and the museum’s beautiful Korean sanggam  (inlaid porcelain) celadon vessel among other highlights of their permanent collection. In fact, I went on a fairly regular basis – as if to check up on these pieces for posterity and good luck.

James Turrell in front the Roden Crater – a work in progress

James Turrell in front the Roden Crater – a work in progress

In addition to savoring one last glimpse of works I’ve come to love, I made a special trip to see the current James Turrell retrospective. As Turrell is most recognized for his interest in light as both a concept and phenomena, the exhibit featured seven immersive and atmospheric light installations. The exhibit also included prints and drawings associated with his famed (though incomplete) Roden Crater installation. Yet despite all the periphery and iteration of like pieces, there is one installation in particular that is truly astounding.

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The Ironically Organic Installations of Tara Donovan

Untitled [Plastic Cups] (image courtesy of Ace Gallery)

Untitled [Plastic Cups] (image courtesy of Ace Gallery)

Tara Donovan is a contemporary artist who is best known for her large scale, site-specific installations. Despite relying almost exclusively on mass-produced materials such as plastic cups or wooden pencils, her work is surprisingly biological in appearance. After all, the forms in Donovan’s installations are directly influenced by patterns of growth found in nature.

(image courtesy of Ace Gallery)

(image courtesy of Ace Gallery)

Colony Detail (image courtesy of Ace Gallery)

Colony Detail (image courtesy of Ace Gallery)

Iteration is an important aspect of her work. Aside from miscellaneous structural components (i.e. glue and whatnot), Donovan creates each installation using a single material that is modified or repeated countless times to determine the final form. The process is a sensitive one wherein the monotony of the materials reveals a surprising spectrum of hues, volume, and presence that would otherwise go unnoticed. Imagining Donovan construct her installations brings to mind a slow, methodical process wherein one can’t help but fall into a rhythm of counting physical motions and their object counterparts. The mass and repetition of Donovan’s works also brings a focus to the importance of numbers, which arguably connects back to patterns found in nature like the Fibonacci sequence.

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CMYK – Gradient Collection

I have always been interested in how things change over time, which is probably why I find gradients to be so evocative. Take a look at some of my favorite images from the archives and enjoy the weekend!

CMYK – Overgrowth Collection

Most view overgrowth as inconvenient, an eyesore, or both. Perhaps it was my upbringing in quasi-rural Virginia, but I’ve never subscribed to that mentality. Instead, I fondly remember sampling the honeysuckle that obscured our fences as a child and cataloging hues of lichen in the stream behind our house. Granted that was then, but I think that all of us could take some time to step back and appreciate the humbling beauty of growth.

The Most Popular Post of 2012: Invoking Pygmalion – Yasuaki Onishi’s “Reverse Volume” Installations

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

Of the existing accounts of Yasuaki Onishi‘s portfolio, few have investigated his work beyond commending the artists’ ability to manipulate space. However, there is a strong link which runs throughout his entire body of work – namely the interaction between the ideas and implications surrounding kinetics.

Formally, Onishi’s work not only manipulates, but depends on movement in order to convey the meaning behind each piece. In the two-dimensional realm, his long-exposure photography in his Shaved & Rolled series softens otherwise violent and immediate jolts of fire.  Similarly in his sculptural installations, Onishi’s works rise and fall – respiring as if to possess their own sentience.

"Reverse of Volume" RG, 2012; Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas; Photo: Nash Baker

“Reverse of Volume” RG, 2012; Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas; Photo: Nash Baker

Yet while elements of movement are prominent throughout his portfolio, the most striking example of Onishi’s interest in motion lies in his Reverse Volume series. In relying solely on plastic sheeting, string, and black glue, the artist crafts monumental installations of imposing presence from materials which lack any substantial mass of their own. Although appearing firm, the mountainous incarnations gently bulge, crumple, and collapse in the natural drafts within the exhibition space. Thus breaking from the use of fans in his other works, the oscillation in Reverse Volume is calculated but not provoked.

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

As a viewer, one is left to ponder Onishi’s paradox of mass and anti-mass.  How does he reconcile the tacit respiration and ghost-like drifting of his installation? What does it mean to allow the slightest breeze to coerce a formation reminiscent of looming mountainscapes? A possible reading hinges on interpreting the piece as a fundamentally kinetic presence.  Because of the choice in materials, the installation can not physically (or conceivably) remain static. Rather, it is manipulated by the surrounding atmosphere, just as a seaside cliff crumbles into the assailing waves below. In creating such formidable structures from delicate materials, the artist suggests that there is no such thing as the immovable. The precarious and impressionable existence of Onishi’s installation in the exhibition space characterizes our world as a whole. Playing on the inherently ephemeral nature of installation art, Reverse Volume symbolizes inevitable change in our environment. It reminds us that what we hold as permanent amounts to nothing more than a cursory moment between growth and siege – a humbling notion still fresh in the minds of his audience following the natural disaster last year in Fukushima Prefecture.

If you are interested (and reasonably local), his work will open to the public on the 13th of April in the Rice University Installation Gallery in Houston and will be up until the 24th of June. Onishi will give a gallery talk at 6:00P on opening night with a volley at noon on the 14th. Admission is free so there’s no reason to miss out. Also, check out the gallery below for some high resolution images courtesy of the curator.

A Study in Materials – The Sculptural Installations of Wolfgang Laib

German artist Wolfgang Laib finds inspiration in the quiet, meditative beauty of natural materials. His sculptural installations rely almost exclusively on organic matter (ranging from pure pollen to marble) that the artist collects himself. In doing so, Laib investigates the unbridled essence of these natural forms in an effort to appeal to our collective instinct as beings instead of citizens.

Milkstones & Rice; details unknown

Milkstones & Rice; details unknown

Installing pollen on gallery floor

Installing pollen on gallery floor

Laib’s practice is greatly informed by his experiences throughout the Far East. There are strong undertones of ritual throughout his work, whether in harvesting materials by hand or meditatively installing his artworks. In a sense, Laib is interested in the boundaries between inside and outside space. Perhaps intuited from the architectural traditions of Korea and Japan, this isolation of natural materials within an interior setting encourages the viewer to contemplate the essence of our surroundings. In that capacity, his work functions similarly to a Zen garden, wherein it is necessary to ponder the relationships between various symbolic components in order to reveal the overarching harmony of the outside world.

Ziggurat, 1999
Beeswax, wood

Ziggurat, 1999
Beeswax, wood

Mirroring the interior/exterior conundrum, there is a tension between organic and geometric elements throughout Laib’s work. His staircases and pathways obviously allude to human civilization (technology, architecture, &c), but they are crafted using choice natural materials that undermine linear precision. Does this contrast suggest we are at odds with nature or that it is an inseparable aspect of human existence? Furthermore, is the natural world a lone entity or a complex amalgamation of competing elements that miraculously find symbiosis and equilibrium? It’s impossible to say. But Laib’s juxtapositions of texture, color, and other qualia nonetheless inspire this sort of reflective thought in his viewer.

Marmordreieck (milkstone & rice)

Marmordreieck (milkstone & rice)

Much of Laib’s conceptual backing focuses on creating pieces that are universal and intuitive. In other words, by using natural materials that are common throughout the world, Laib intends for his work to transcend cultural relevance and communicate directly to any potential viewer despite social, political, or individual identity. In so far as he is successful, his pieces are actually aimed at humanity as a whole. Yet this begs the question posed by anthropologist Franz Boas,who asserted that one is unable to completely separate from his or her cultural context. Considering Laib’s conceptual underpinnings, is there a fundamental shared human intuition, or are we bound by subconscious social constructs?

Piles of pure pollen

Piles of pure pollen

Unfortunately there is no answer to any of these questions – just fodder for good discussion and asymptotic inferences. So instead of rushing into an existential inquisition, be sure to check out some images of Wolfgang Laib’s work in the gallery below. He does not have a website, but there is a wonderful book entitled Wolfgang Laib: A Retrospective in circulation if you would like to learn more about his process.

Revealing Common Ground – Motoi Yamamoto’s “Labyrinth” Installations

Installing “Forest of Beyond” 2011

Contemporary artist Motoi Yamamoto began working with salt predominantly after losing his 24 year-old sister to brain cancer in the mid 90’s. Since that initial period, his work has straddled a consistent balance between emotive and conceptual impulses. In particular, his ‘labyrinth’ series (which predominantly consists of intricate floor-level salt drawings) attests to the dual nature of his work as a whole.

Labyrinth in Cologne, Germany 2010

 On one hand, this series is as an outlet for Yamamoto’s grief. Relying on a sort of meditative despondence, he painstakingly determines uniform lines of salt on the gallery floor. Though the patterns are elaborately aligned, they nonetheless develop their own paths independent of the artist’s intentions. This sort of growth, change, and resolution mirrors the unpredictable waves of emotion that we all experience. In this sense, Yamamoto’s work hinges on empathy.

 Yet if one were to fledge a holistic interpretation of his portfolio, it is necessary to investigate his conceptual backing as well. Many of these ideas stem from the artist’s exclusive use of harvested sea salt for his labyrinth installations. This seemingly minimal choice in material might actually be rather complex in that it speaks to the cyclical and overlapping nature of existence. Salt is inextricably linked to death rites in Japanese culture, but it is also an essential mineral that sustains all life on earth in one way or another. In other words, it is the common link that links every being throughout time and space. It is in this capacity that Yamamoto is able to co-exist with his sister despite her untimely death.

Communal Deinstallation in Cologne 2010

Returning Salt to the Sea at Ono Beach, Japan 2012 (photo courtesy of Junshi Nakamichi) 

Perhaps these implications play out in the flesh as each installation is created, appreciated, and destroyed. Though Yamamoto strains salt from the ocean and constructs each labyrinth himself, the installations are incredibly communal. When the exhibition closes, Yamamoto invites the viewers to help him dismantle the installation and return the salt to the sea. By encouraging his audience to interact directly with the artwork in this manner, he creates a situation wherein the living, the deceased, and the unborn correspond in an immediate interrelationship – namely the juncture between life stages, life cycles, and lifetimes.

 If you would like to learn more about Yamamoto and his work, be sure to visit his website where you have access to his artist statement as well as his different bodies of work. In the meantime, check out images cataloguing different manifestations of his labyrinth series in the gallery below.

Jeff Talman – The Art of Sound

Whereas most artists seek out visual stimulation, Jeff Talman looks rather to a completely difference sense altogether. His work hinges on the beauty of sound – specifically the esoteric frequencies that we encounter everyday but are nonetheless are apt to tune out.

Recording the sound of snow

For lack of a better term, his pieces fall into a new-ish category of “sound installation.” Here, the artist fills a given space with noise rather than materials. Specifically concerning Talman’s work, these installations have no bounds in terms of where they occur or what they contain. In fact, he has exhibited his work everywhere from the dense forests to the sidewalks of Köln. Of course depending on the piece, the juxtaposition between the captured sounds and the exhibition space can prompt a phenomenal sensory experience.

Talman installing equipment to capture the echoes of almost             indistinct wave sounds from a nearby shore

The most profound aspect of his work however is the diversity of sounds he collects and reproduces. Talman uses super sensitive sound equipment to record the subtle wisps of breeze between trees, the crash of distant waves as they reverberate through a grand modern hall, or even the sound of silence in European cathedrals. He is perhaps best known for a recent installation in the Bavarian forest wherein Talman collaborated with astrophysicist Daniel Huber to reproduce the sound of burning stars. But regardless which installation one considers, Talman inevitably confronts his audience with an aural world often left unnoticed or unexplored.

Partly because his installations are impermanent by nature, it would be extremely rewarding to experience these transient and transformative exhibitions. Until then, you can learn more about both his process by visiting his website. You can also see a vast array of his two-dimensional work – all of which of course center around varying ideas of sound.

And I’m Off To Get An iPad

Great news for the art world! Rice Gallery (the only university art museum in the United States that caters exclusively to installation work) just released an app for the iPad that catalogues each site-specific exhibition commissioned by the school since 1995. In other words, it’s an all access key to the works of world-renowned artists like El Anatsui, Tara Donovan, and many others.

Archives Screen Shot (image courtesy of Rice Gallery)

The app is a great resource for viewers around the world who don’t otherwise have access to the space in Houston, TX. It allows one to scroll through high-resolution photo galleries and videos covering the installation process, artist interviews, and intimate details of the final exhibition. The content is organized either chronologically or by artist, so it is easy to hone in on your favorites.

Photo Gallery Screen Shot (image courtesy of Rice Gallery)

You can find out more information about this app by visiting the Rice Gallery website or by checking it out on iTunes. The kicker is that it is free, so there’s really no excuse to pass it up!

CMYK: Fluorescence

A contrast of biodynamic, bioluminescent, and anthropogenic fluorescence.

CMYK – White Collection

Happy weekend!

Follow Up: Yasuaki Onishi at Rice Gallery

"Reverse of Volume" RG, 2012; Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas; Photo: Nash Baker

“Reverse of Volume” RG, 2012; Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas; Photo: Nash Baker

A while back, I wrote about Yasuaki Onishi‘s upcoming “Reverse of Volume” installation at Rice Gallery in Houston. Having attended the opening, I had the pleasure of speaking both with Onishi as well as the curator who were both thrilled at the final product. As with most installation work, this piece was a site specific work that took advantage of the high ceilings – thus offering the first opportunity for the viewer to step underneath the work to experience the piece from below. Suffice it to say that the show has generated a great deal of hype around town. Here are some images and a short video documenting the installation at Rice Gallery. Be sure to go and check it out in person before it comes down on the 24th of June.

Yasuaki Onishi: reverse of volume (RG) from Mark & Angela Walley on Vimeo.

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Invoking Pygmalion – Yasuaki Onishi “Reverse Volume” Installations

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

Of the existing accounts of Yasuaki Onishi‘s portfolio, few have investigated his work beyond commending the artists’ ability to manipulate space. However, there is a strong link which runs throughout his entire body of work – namely the interaction between the ideas and implications surrounding kinetics.

Formally, Onishi’s work not only manipulates, but depends on movement in order to convey the meaning behind each piece. In the two-dimensional realm, his long-exposure photography in his Shaved & Rolled series softens otherwise violent and immediate jolts of fire.  Similarly in his sculptural installations, Onishi’s works rise and fall – respiring as if to possess their own sentience.

Yet while elements of movement are prominent throughout his portfolio, the most striking example of Onishi’s interest in motion lies in his Reverse Volume series. In relying solely on plastic sheeting, string, and black glue, the artist crafts monumental installations of imposing presence from materials which lack any substantial mass of their own. Although appearing firm, the mountainous incarnations gently bulge, crumple, and collapse in the natural drafts within the exhibition space. Thus breaking from the use of fans in his other works, the oscillation in Reverse Volume is calculated but not provoked.

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

As a viewer, one is left to ponder Onishi’s paradox of mass and anti-mass.  How does he reconcile the tacit respiration and ghost-like drifting of his installation? What does it mean to allow the slightest breeze to coerce a formation reminiscent of looming mountainscapes? A possible reading hinges on interpreting the piece as a fundamentally kinetic presence.  Because of the choice in materials, the installation can not physically (or conceivably) remain static. Rather, it is manipulated by the surrounding atmosphere, just as a seaside cliff crumbles into the assailing waves below. In creating such formidable structures from delicate materials, the artist suggests that there is no such thing as the immovable. The precarious and impressionable existence of Onishi’s installation in the exhibition space characterizes our world as a whole. Playing on the inherently ephemeral nature of installation art, Reverse Volume symbolizes inevitable change in our environment. It reminds us that what we hold as permanent amounts to nothing more than a cursory moment between growth and siege – a humbling notion still fresh in the minds of his audience following the natural disaster last year in Fukushima Prefecture.

            If you are interested (and reasonably local), his work will open to the public on the 13th of April in the Rice University Installation Gallery in Houston and will be up until the 24th of June. Onishi will give a gallery talk at 6:00P on opening night with a volley at noon on the 14th. Admission is free so there’s no reason to miss out. Also, check out the gallery below for some high resolution images courtesy of the curator.

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