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Neidich ’08 invites you to sit, stand or squat

Friday, October 26, 2007

“Sit, Stand or Squat,” an exhibition of colorful, otherworldly sculptures by Stephen Neidich ’08, is currently showing in the lobby of List Art Building. A reception will be held tonight from 7 to 10 p.m. for the exhibit, which will be on display until Sunday.

Neidich’s sculptures are all made of expandable foam, a polyurethane compound similar to the material used to make insulating window moldings. “These pieces kind of sprung out of an accident,” Neidich said. “I’d been working in concrete for about six months, but I got tired of it. I was trying to make an end table, and one of my TAs said, ‘Why don’t you use expandable foam?'”

That was five months ago. Since then, Neidich has been experimenting with this unconventional and, as he puts it, “fickle” material.

Expandable foam begins its life as two separate liquids that, when mixed in equal parts, solidify and swell to up to ten times their original volume. Neidich said he pours the initial chemical mixture into buckets and trash cans. He shapes the foam as it grows and cascades down the sides of the container, which remains encased in the sculpture itself. By adding different types and colors of foam, he creates complex, multi-layered pieces.

But the foam is a highly unpredictable material, and Neidich said he discovered getting it to do what he wanted could be difficult ­- a quality that he embraced.

“I really enjoy pushing the limits of a material,” he said. “Each time I push the limits of the foam a little further, it adds a level of interest to the piece.”

Neidich, who likes to “blur the lines between sculpture and furniture,” originally conceived most of the works in the show as chairs or stools. This is immediately recognizable in some of the simpler works, such as a pearl-colored piece that resembles a giant, floor-bound hat. As layers of foam are added, however, the sculptures begin to look less inanimate and more organic: There is something eerily gill-like about the ripples that form on their sides.

With their bright colors and gelatinous shapes, the pieces can appeal to the taste buds as well as the eyes – one purple and yellow sculpture resembles a heap of melting ice cream. At the same time, however, the sculptures can sometimes seem like slithering alien beings. They give the unsettling sense of not having been installed in the exhibition space so much as let loose.

Neidich, who is articulate, passionate and self-effacingly humorous when speaking about his work, isn’t about to resolve this duality: For him, it’s an important aspect of the works themselves.

“On one hand, you’ve got these fun, warm, welcoming colors,” he said, “and on the other hand you’ve got these organic blobs.”

The sculptures also express a different kind of duality, serving as both art and design objects, and Neidich encourages viewers to experience both sides of his work. “If I say it’s a seat, you can sit on it,” he explained. “I try to stay true to that aesthetic.”

Though Neidich isn’t certain if the pieces are “fully functional” yet, he welcomes viewers who want to test out the works as furniture to sit on them, so as long as they approach them with “a slight sense of ginger-ness.”

“I’m having a blast making these pieces,” Neidich said, and “Sit, Stand or Squat” communicates exactly that – the sense of experimentation and play that went into the creation of these strange, captivating sculptures.

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