Artist Matthew Friday, whose self-described work "is about history and the ability to imagine alternative histories as sites of shared meaning," actually makes art of the moment. As one of nine artists in the exhibition ReUse/ReOrder,
now up at the Indianapolis Art Center, Friday is of the "re-order" side of things, making art that speaks hopefully to, as he puts it, "a faith in the potential of an imagined community as a site of resistance," and, by extension, a re-imagined present.
Friday's "The Great Communicator" depicts movie star President Ronald Reagan surrounded by car crashes, alligators, helicopters and explosions as if to suggest Reagan's heroic persona as both a reality and a fiction; and for Friday, the distinction between them is blurred. Friday dances this theme expertly in all of his pieces, layering images in thematic works such as "Asking Not What You Can Do," which references John F. Kennedy as the central image, in a seamless collage of possibilities.
Collage, literally and figuratively, is the approach of choice when it comes to re-appropriating materials and ideas, an approach that seems to characterize this exhibition on the whole. The "reuse" aspect is obvious, but the sustainability side of this approach, while important - and also of the moment - is almost secondary. Artists are nothing if not re-appropriators; the art is in appropriating with unique creative vision.
That said, this exhibition does strive to make the recycling aspect of the art obvious, and some of the artists included suggest just that intentionality. Crawfordsville, Ind., artist Doug Calisch crafts extraordinarily complex and tightly construed sculptures from "collected and altered materials," each becoming its own narrative or suggested narratives. The discarded is a sort of playground, and has been for years for Calisch, offering a means for his imagination to make connections between things that are both absurd and at times profound, but that cohere beautifully in a work of art.
Florida artist Pip Brant makes political and socially conscious art from found cloth, embellishing it with delicate embroidered stitches and dyes to bring issues into focus. In "Superdome," an aerial view of the New Orleans Superdome is stitched into the fabric with flourishes of decorative flowers, while stylized depictions of the hurricane circle the central images, swirling like colorful pinwheels. The image appears as a lovely garden of delights, until one realizes that this is the dome before the storm. Brant's juxtaposition of dark moments in our collective recent past - Abu Ghraib, one of the recent tsunamis - with the delicacy of embroidery and dyed textiles suggests that perhaps we need to pay more attention to the details.
On view in conjunction with the show, the collaborative work with the working title "El Anatsui," made from bottle caps, tops and copper wire and other recycled materials, addresses the theme of "reuse" intentionally, and invites viewers to suggest a name for the piece.
Finally, on view outside of the Art Center's main entrance, Chakaia Booker's "Cross Over Effects," brought to Indianapolis as part of Chakaia Booker: Mass Transit,
on view citywide through April 1 as part of the Arts Council's public art initiative, and composed of recycled rubber tires, affirms that there's a larger movement afoot.
Artists have always been ahead of the mass consciousness, and recycling is no exception.
is on view through April 19 at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St. Call 317-255-2464 or visit www.indplsartcenter.org. Admission is free.