Emily Bennett’s “Contentment” consists of 28 hanging hammocks hanging off the garden pergola in the center of the Indianapolis Art Center (IAC) parking lot. And it was the installation that greeted most patrons as they came to the opening night of Installation Nation – the annual event sponsored by the nonprofit organization Primary Colours – in its 3rd year at the IAC.
This installation, 1 of 13 chosen by a jury (out of 50), undoubtedly was the most comfortable of them all.
A number of children seemed pretty content, hanging in these hammocks, which were not made of netting but of fabric in subdued sky blues, aquamarines, and grays…. And as with a number of Installation Nation installations, this particular one made use of the architectural and auditory embellishments (as well as vegetation) on the IAC grounds. In this instance, when you sit down in the hammock you could close your eyes and take a listen to Michael Partington’s sensory path sound installation.
Kids also were having a field day with Johnson Hunt’s “A Sinking View,” featuring a miniature house slanted at around 33 degrees, appearing as if it had partially sunk into the earth; that is, kids were able to quickly and easily climb and sit on top of the roof of this installation.
Houses and other structures are sinking into the earth quite a lot now in Siberia, where the permafrost is melting due to climate change. It’s also happening in Florida due to sinkholes—probably linked to rising sea levels. But kids don’t care about such conceptual content lurking in the background. Kids do what kids do even in the face of disaster, and anyway the weather was absolutely perfect on this day. A number of parents were watching the kids climb from the blankets on the grass, soaking up the afternoon sun. We may all be doomed, but it’s no excuse not to catch some rays.
The blankets were part of this installation, and there was also ample reading material spread about. One of these books was "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" by Ted W. Lawson, a book that tells the story of the 1942 American air strike on Tokyo four months after Pearl Harbor.
Speaking of reading material, Sarah Anderson’s "Inherent Vice" seemed to take its title from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. You might call this a sight specific – as well as a site specific – installation as the two large digitally manipulated photographic prints hanging on two separate trees spaced four feet away from one another. The images on these prints were actually of the trees themselves, although this image seemed to be in the process of being sliced and diced and merged with other images like in a bad screensaver on some off brand operating system or like cards being shuffled in a card deck.
Entropy is an enduring theme with Pynchon, and, it seems, with this particular installation artist as well. And, yet, the entropy that is destroying the natural world is definitely man-made. Could it be that Anderson’s commenting on the nature of our shared reality as much as on the deterioration of the natural world?
A need to share is suggested by the title of the installation “It takes more than one,” by Luke Crawley. That is, cooperation is required by the nature of its design and function of this musical installation in order to get something worth listening to. You see 12 bicycle pumps around a music-structure consisting largely of PVC pipe. By pumping a bicycle pump into the pipes, you get a noise that sounds something like squawking geese. But if you get twelve pumpers pumping in coordination with each other, maybe you can get something like Beethoven’s 5th going on. (Actually, the best you could probably hope for is something like Philip Glass’s “Music in Twelve Parts.”)
Now the word dialogue is often bandied about in contemporary art circles. I’m sure that I’ve used or abused the word from time to time in my writing, but what is it like to actually have a spoken word conversation with the art? That was indeed possible with Jedediah Johnson’s “Jersey Knit Topology” because the artist was, in fact, very much a part of his installation.
The shirt Johnson was wearing, a black Harbor Bay shirt, was attached to 35 more shirts of various colors sewn together in various states of wear. This tapestry was tied to the tree branches above him. So Johnson looked something like a peacock or one of those forest creatures King Arthur encountered in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“I’ve worn Harbor Bay shirts every day since 1994,” he explained to me. “So this is a topology of my body over the last 20 years, a history of my torsos.”
And Johnson’s a big dude, who buys shirts that fit him well.
Gautam Rao’s “Water Tables” deal with a different type of topology. His installation was a set of small, reflective curvilinear-shaped tables of blue Plexiglas on plywood at various levels along the banks of the White River. The pieces work as visual puns and have some practical value as well: you could a can of beer on said tables quite effectively. But a Rocky Ripple resident might—when viewing this work—be thinking about how the actual water table along the riverbank might rise correspondingly during the next flood.
I wasn’t one of those lucky enough to take a bath in Amy Applegate’s “Public Bath,” and in fact missed the performance. I did, however, view the aftermath where Applegate and her fellow bathers were all wearing bathrobes stained with blackberry juice and ink. There was a bathtub filled with purple water and hoses leading out to sinks from it. Some of the performers had soaked in the tub and some had split up in twos and spread blackberry jam on each other’s faces. Was it an initiation ceremony?
The performance - I saw part of it on a video taken with an iPhone - was spirited and goofy: the performers were all singing some song that Applegate had made up off the cuff, but without the performers there doing what they do, the installation might still hold water, but not the viewer’s attention. Maybe what it needs is some text leading to this video that patrons could call it up and view it after the fact.
Quincy and Nikki Owens collaborative “Shelter”— made of woven wicker, crosshatched, and supported on tree branches – takes the top award in the irony department. It brings to mind the forts I used to make as a kid out of sticks that offered absolutely no protection from the elements.
William Denton Ray’s “Wave” is an installation designed to respond to the elements, consisting of 3.000 small red and yellow flags planted in the ground. Looking from above, you might get the sense that you’re looking at a color field painting. It’s an interesting idea to flag out a field like a color field painting. It probably would’ve been more interesting to see it with the wind blowing, though. At any rate, it’s certainly an intriguing departure from Ray's paintings of fantastical mutant subjects.
Chad Hankins’ “A Bit of me in you” is an expansion of an installation that he had a while back at the Raymond James Stutz Art Gallery in October, 2015. In this case it’s an entire wall composed of small rectangular mirrors. In some of the rectangular spaces where you might expect to see a mirror, however, there’s just a hole. So you could see someone else’s eyes – as that someone is looking at you from the other side – when you expect to see your own. This installation makes me think somewhat of Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in Chicago (known affectionately as “The Bean.”) which reflects the images of passersby in Millennium Park as well as the Magnificent Mile skyline. Incidentally Kapoor is the one who’s angered the art world by claiming exclusive rights to Vantablack, a material engineered to be so black that it absorbs 99.96 percent of light.
(On April 1, 2016 the art magazine Hyperallergic published an article that documented Kapoor’s covering “Cloud Gate” in Vantablack. You have to consider, of course, the date of publication, April Fool’s Day. Nevertheless, Hankins and Kapoor should get together for a cup of coffee—black coffee of course—and see what they can conjure up together.)
My favorite installation just so happens to be the last one listed on the Installation Nation brochure: Melanie Pennington’s “Feed Your Self." Pennington, an adjunct instructor in sculpture at IU Bloomington, uses baled hay and burlap to evoke two creatures with indefinite lineage, roughly the size of cows or buffalos – one of which stands on two legs. They appear to be fighting, or perhaps they are consoling one another. The beast with two legs has a giant wood stake through it. In these days of impending environmental calamity, considering the title of the installation, it’s hard not to view it without a sense of dread. But maybe there's no environmental message here at all. Maybe these creatures are simply unable to feed themselves. In any case, the open-ended suggestiveness of this installation, and its elegant use of the crudest materials, brings it into the realm of poetry.
Getting Installation Nation
out of the shipping containers – in which artists used to exhibit their installations annually in various locals around the city – and onto the grounds of the Indianapolis Art Center was an inspired thing. And so, it must be said, making it a free event in these days when a visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art will cost you 18 bucks as a nonmember. Not the least of the advantages is the ability for a patron to ponder the other exhibitions going on at the IAC.
And this other exhibition happens to be Art from the Heartland
, juried and curated by Mindy Taylor Ross, who selected 80 pieces from a pool of 650 from all over the Midwest.
And this exhibition also contained at least one large scale installation worth talking about: “Sweet Spot,” by Shawn Causey and Mark Daniell.
Picture around 3,000 nylon cords of varying colors stretched taut between floor and ceiling like beams of light in Star Trek’s transporter room. It’s basically the same thing that you might have seen in the April 2016 “Sweet Spot” exhibition at Gallery 924, but a different configuration.
At 924, the variable light coming in through the plate glass windows became part of the installation with the shadows created. But here, against a dark blue background, with no windows, it’s easier to appreciate this installation as a piece unto itself. And the effect of walking by the cords and watching the colors shuffle and fly by—perhaps while imagining Mr. Spock as he beams down into this installation—might just be a richer one.
Adjacent to this installation is a planet I don’t think Mr. Spock ever made it to. Morgan Frew’s oil painting "Pluto is for Lovers" gives a little loving attention to dwarf planet. (Pluto’s declassification as an actual planet was a matter of great debate inside and outside the scientific community, but mostly outside.)
It’s most prominent feature, an ice field, is outlined by a glowing neon tube—raised above the surface of the painting—in the shape of a heart. Frew’s depiction of the planet, in soft and purplish pastels, makes that 3-billion-mile-distant dwarf planet seem almost like a place you might want to bring your significant other on your honeymoon.
Drew Etienne, however, in his landscape "Sawtooth Mountain Ghosts," has a knack for making the terrestrial seem otherworldly as if it was a shared hallucination conjured up in one of The Matrix movies. Underneath the mountains depicted in this work, you can see the fractal geometries that might delineate such a landscape feature on the console of an F-15—or an X-box. And while Etienne seems like a gamer at heart, this particular work reminds me somewhat of the haunting landscapes of the late Indy-based painter Susan Hodgin.
Not everything in this exhibition is otherworldly. Politics rears its head here and there in this exhibition, sometimes in a Jasper Johns kind of way.
Bradley Devlin’s contribution is a flag made of found objects and mixed media entitled “No Way Out,” with steel exit signs where the stars should be.
And in Barbara Hosein’s painting “Endgame,” there’s something similar going on conceptually. In the upper left where the stars normally are in the American flag you instead see a chessboard with actual pieces fixed to it. And the chess pieces left on the flag/chessboard suggest an actual endgame, one or two moves away from checkmate. You get the sense that, however the game ends, the result will be mutually-assured destruction.
A different work by Barbara Hosein “Feast” deals with Civil War casualties, where the dead in each battle on Union and Confederate sides are represented by plates of blue and gray lentils on a table dressed up to the nines for a fancy dinner. Often I find such highly conceptual art to be boring and by the numbers but in this case it works. By each plate are placards announcing the war dead count in various battles and you can see how the number of dead on each side measure up in any particular battle. The question is, then, who are the people that will sit down for this feast?
Brett Anderson’s “Trash Heap Colossus,” might also be seen as dumping on America, as it were, with a meticulously delineated intaglio and screen print work showing a colossus’s bearded head composed from a trash heap. All puns aside, America is kinda drowning in its own trash.
The need to tally up America’s losses and follies also looms large in the work of Falleh Tamba. One of his installations, if you could call it that, consists of a coffin wrapped in a burial shroud, with an audio component investigating the misdeeds of the Veterans’ Administration. The other is a wall-hanging monument to war composed of a soldier’s gear including a helmet, New Testament, and journals. In these journals there’s more poems than daily entries; some needs reworking in order for the verses to climb above the prosaic, but there are a few lines that leap right off the page for me, including this: “My soul and I are not one any longer/It was frightened by bombs that rocked the earth beneath my feet.”
There's turbulence, to be sure, but there's also transcendent beauty in this exhibition. You see it in work by very different artists, in multiple types of media. You see it in the tired expression of Margaret Davis’s young volunteer building a sand barrier in a flood, painted in oil on resin and sandbags. You see it in the blown glass “River Ripples” vessels of Ben Johnson, where the surface of the glass seems to flow like water. You see it also in Dave Pluimer’s stunningly clear photograph “Home,” where you see a quiet building at night and the fierce, blinding stars of the Milky Way above.
On June 18, the people of Englewood, Indy artists, and volunteers from the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA) got together and had a celebration displaying visual art, music, and performance at at 3002 E. Washington St. in Indianapolis. This vacant building was transformed during this day into the Art Shack.
I paid a visit there late in the afternoon and stayed for a few hours to find out what was going on.
I checked out the art on the Art Shack walls inspired by the menu at the restaurant/bar that used to reside here. I checked out some painted mirrors by Erin Drew—the kind you might see on the walls of a bar but with a humorous twist—and a collaborative writing projects guided by iMOCA’s John Clark.
Outside there were various food vendors from the local community.
During the heat of the day locally based artist Carla Knopp was giving tap dance lessons in the heat of the day to area kids. Later, in the evening, various musicians played for a group consisting mostly of local residents gathered outside, soaking up the evening sun.
There were also an installation entitled Art Shack Dance—an outdoor game—by Daniel Del Real.
(I talked with Del Real before taking a trip to Tijuana last November, where I encountered efforts in community building through art that mirror what’s going on in Englewood. Del Real was born in Tijuana and I asked for suggestions for my itinerary.)
Perhaps the one phrase that might sum up what was going on here better than anything else was the sign on the exterior of the building, above the entrance, reading “Better Days,” created by Jamie Pawlus.
Because the organizers of this event are committed to community-building through art.
Brent Aldrich, who is on the board of iMOCA, works also as a project manager for the Englewood Community Development corporation, and was the main organizer of this event. And it was through iMOCA working with the ECDC as well as the Great Places 2020 and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, that this event came to fruition.
“For me it’s the perfect fit,” Aldrich explained to me. “My background’s in arts but I also work for Englewood CDC so it’s really it’s the best of both worlds. It really started with iMOCA working with Englewood; we got small amount of funds to do some projects; we did originally an open RFP [request for proposal] for anyone, for neighbors, for artists. We got a lot of good ideas including this concert series, some of the installations that are here; the amateur filmmaking classes and the support for Cathead Press
One of the artists Aldrich pointed out is Jennifer Delgadillo, who made the short film “Everything is Funny,” which was playing in the Art Shack and serving as a preview for the Englewood Neighborhood Film Festival
on July 16. This short film, in black and white, documents a walk that Delgadillo took in the Englewood neighborhood combined with her poetic (and thoughtful) observations.
She shot the film using a Nexus phone the screen of which has clearly seen better days. (Its screen is shattered.)
Delgadillo, who lives in Englewood, is the organizer of the Englewood Neighborhood Film Festival on July 16, which will take place in a vacant building right across from the Art Shack.
But she’s also teaching the art of filmmaking.
“I’m teaching film editing using cell phone apps, teaching people who want to tell their stories and show them things that seem really, really difficult are things you can learn quite easily,” she told me.
For more information on the film festival and classes contact Jennifer Delgadillo at firstname.lastname@example.org