Installation explores art within space

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Whether they’ve dodged the mobile of black globes suspended in the lobby or gazed up at the knot of yellow tubing hovering over the north stairwell, recent visitors to the List Art Center have probably noticed large works of art taking root in unusual places.

“It’s art that emphasizes the relation between space and the object,” said Vesela Sretenovic, the curator of the David Winton Bell Gallery. “It’s a very physical encounter.”

Such is the essence of “in TRANSIT: from OBJECT to SITE,” an expansive collection of installation art that has slowly taken over List. “We really wanted to engage the whole building,” Sretenovic said, referring to the show’s use of the List’s second floor and outdoor lawns.

Showcasing 10 separate works, “in TRANSIT” was a collaborative initiative involving Sretenovic, Leslie Bostrom, associate professor of art and chair of the Department of Visual Art and Associate Professor Emerita of Visual Art Marlene Malik. The exhibition was designed to combine the work of both nationally reputed and emerging artists.

Three of the featured artists – Nico Wheadon ’06, Arlene Chung ’06 and Hilary Leewong ’06 – are former students of Malik, who completed her final offering of VA 142: “Sculpture II (Installation)” last semester. These artists’ contributions were not, however, part of their work for Malik’s course.

The works are similar in that each deals with social issues. According to Bostrom, Wheadon’s piece depicts how society and individuals constantly apply numbers to daily life. Wheadon found inspiration for her piece in the Dewey Decimal System. The creation, titled “Soft Mathematics: Numbers Revisited,” used touch-activated “sound objects” to create a sensory experience. An art-semiotics and literary arts concentrator, Wheadon also incorporated original writing into the work.

Curving along the north lawn is Leewong’s “Pasa,” a pink fence made of wire and soft drink labels. Juxtaposed against an actual construction site, Leewong said the barrier is meant to question the idea of the “authentic American.”

“This notion of who deserves to be on what side of the fence is absurd,” Leewong said, adding that “Pasa” also highlights the boundary between College Hill and the city of Providence.

“I’m kind of obsessed with the Van Wickle Gates,” said Leewong, “And I kept thinking, what would the back gate of Brown look like?”

Chung, a neuroscience concentrator now attending New York University’s School of Medicine, is responsible for one of “in TRANSIT’s” more frightening installations. Covering the ceiling outside of List 110, “Untitled (The Legacy of Gaetan Dugas),” uses dangling syringes to address the ever-present threat of disease, specifically AIDS.

According to Bostrom, infection and the fear it invokes are recurring themes in Chung’s work. Bostrom said she vividly recalls a performance art piece Chung created as an undergraduate in which she dressed in a nurse’s uniform and distributed emergency medical kits to students around campus.

The exhibition also displays several prominent site-specific artists. Among the recognizable names is Magaly Ponce, whose “Subject, Horizon, and Reflection” was designed from scratch for its specific location in List. A three-part video installation, the exhibit employs cleverly hidden cameras to split projections of the viewer onto a wall between the elevators.

Another well-known artist is Fred Wilson, whose breakthrough came in 1992 with his piece, “Mining the Museum,” which mixed antique furniture with objects related to slavery found in the basement of the Maryland Historical Society. His current display at the Bell Gallery, “My Eco, My Shadow, and Me,” is a surreal assortment of blown glass and features an ornate black chandelier. Though Wilson’s piece was crafted prior to “in TRANSIT,” Sretenovic said its reconfiguration in this new space has radically changed the work’s appearance and meaning.

This is also true for Sharon Louden’s “Fairies,” which is situated on the lawn opposite the building’s main entrance. Originally an indoor work, Louden’s structure of raw wire and reflective metal has rusted and morphed since it was placed outside List. Louden’s piece is emblematic of the dynamic relationship between space and the object, the central theme of “in TRANSIT.”

In addition to the installations in List, “in TRANSIT” will feature a presentation and discussion on Sept. 15 with subRosa, a feminist performance art group. The exhibition will also feature a symposium with five prominent art scholars discussing the role of installation art in society on Sept. 23.

The display’s assembly began over the summer and was completed this past Saturday. The exhibition will remain in the space until Oct. 22.