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Review: TURF: IDADA Art Pavilion 

click to enlarge John Himmelfarb, 'The Road Ahead Leaves a Trail Behind' - CHARLES FOX
  • John Himmelfarb, 'The Road Ahead Leaves a Trail Behind'
  • Charles Fox

Here's our full accounting for TURF: IDADA Art Pavilion, open through Feb. 5 at the Old Indianapolis City Hall, with star totals and a few words allotted to each of the pavilion's 22 installations. Reviews by Charles Fox (CF) and Dan Grossman (DG). Numbers refer to each installation's space number within the pavilion.

1. Greg Hull, Meditated Terrain
3.5 stars

Hull makes smart use of the physical positioning of his space, which is the entry to all of the other spaces on the first floor. He literally builds a bridge from the lobby into the area where the installations are located, complete with an artificial terrain and a waterfall created from monitors displaying video of cascading water. Meditated Terrain is effective in setting the tone for the rest of the installations through being inviting yet slightly unsettling. (CF)

2. Artur Silva, Culture Is A Gun
2.5 stars

Exploring “intersections of popular culture with politics,” as Silva puts it in his artist statement, is likely a fertile arena of artistic exploration. With its multitude of old television sets displaying a rather paltry montage of bright colors and images of Kanye West, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and guns, however, Culture Is A Gun lacks meaningful engagement with its subject matter and comes off feeling like a cheap Nam June Paik rip off. The Space Invaders arcade game and solitary monitor in the corner displaying another of Silva’s art videos feel thrown in. This installation grabs attention but does little to keep it. (CF)

3. Nick Allman, Coffee Table
4.5 stars

The latest in Allman’s Unintended Function series is easily his bravest and most ambitious piece to date. The artist creates a scenario in which a 1930s refrigerator has fallen through the ceiling and crashed into the wooden floor, lying slightly propped open with power cord in tow from the floor above. This is one of the most striking installations in the entire venue, and Allman’s superior craftsmanship is well-utilized: his custom-built wood floor, complete with “damage” from the refrigerator’s descent, and the “ruined” ceiling are so well-executed that the entire situation feels completely believable. The fact that it is presented as a functional item, a coffee table, lends a humorous sense of utility to the installation. (CF)

4. John Himmelfarb, The Road Ahead Leaves a Trail Behind
4 stars

Himmelfarb’s installation consists of an orange steel sculpture of an army tank-like machine that feels rugged and quizzically useful, presented in front of a backdrop of decrepit found fuel tanks and barrels. The contrast of the gleaming, new metal object with the metallic wasteland is striking, and there is great beauty contained within both parts of the installation. The wasteland backdrop and the sculpture are both quite intriguing in the gallery setting. One quip: White walls would have given far better emphasis to the installation than the gray the artist chose. (CF)

5. Lori Miles, Waiting for the Electrician (or Someone Like Him)
3 stars

Although the narrative Miles presents in her artist statement is not especially clear — it presents a cynical view of human relationships with a mechanical cockroach as a stand-in for a person — this installation certainly has a lot to chew on. The viewer becomes a part of the “relationship” by sitting in a vibrating comfort chair across the room from a mechanical cockroach, sharing the space with a series of monitors displaying cryptic content, and a mass of wires jutting in and out of the drywall like a gigantic network of veins. (CF)

6. C. Thomas Lewis, Better or Worse?
3.5 stars
Masterfully placed projections emit light forms of human eyes, spirals and portions of the vision exam onto surfaces cut in exactly the shapes of the projections—the human eye examples are the coolest and creepiest. Referencing Dada and surrealism while calling perception into question, Lewis creates a very strange and unsettling environment complete with a soundtrack begging the incessant questions, “Better or worse? A or B?” (CF)

7. Jawshing Arthur Liou, The Insatiable
4 stars

Liou pairs an audio track of bells and wind with a dozen videos filmed at a night market, transposed onto a moving video projection shaped like a snake or dragon. The juxtaposition of the frenzied, modern-day market with the ancient symbolism of the snake and dragon is fascinating. The video literally slithers across the screen, and the combination of the sound and the visuals evoke an eerie, Blade Runner-esque feeling. From a distance, or without reading the label, the video montage is so seamlessly executed that the content it is derived from is not readily apparent. (CF)

8. Kathryn Armstrong, Echoes
3.5 stars

Armstrong continues her examination of art as a transformable subject, injecting unexpected visual elements into the gallery setting that feel simultaneously deliberate and accidental. Like Carl Andre, her sculptural works allow for viewers’ touch, but in Armstrong’s case a footstep will permanently alter the exhibition, churning up her colorful dusts and carefully placed porcelain shards that are arranged throughout the gallery floor. This is part of the experience: over time, viewers incurably alter the space and make it their own due to their physical presence, and their “echoes” remain. (CF)

9. Lauren Zoll, Perspectives on Indianapolis
1.5 stars

Zoll’s way of “responding to the context of Indianapolis,” as she describes it in her artist statement, makes little sense conceptually or visually. Her artist statement is as flurried and difficult to digest as the visual space of the exhibition, which includes gross off-tint paint splatters and oddball text. This is highly personal, travel-based artwork striving for conceptual richness and cultural relevancy and utterly failing to hit the mark. (CF)

10. Casey Roberts, Crossroads
4 stars

Roberts’ installation consists of a life-size diorama of a wolf on a snowy mountain contemplating whether it should make music with a drum set — a huge step out of the norm for the artist — and a video of a man who decides to live as an animal in nature. Roberts describes the idea of looking for change in his artist statement, and that idea is well-represented in this installation. Roberts’ odd, surreal brand of humor injects a lighthearted charm into the artwork, while calling notions of authenticity and artificiality into question. (CF)

11. Jeff Martin, Switch v2.0
4.5 stars

Local viewers may remember Martin’s Switch concept from the inaugural exhibition at iMOCA’s current space, but recreating it on a larger scale was a solid decision for an art exhibition catering to both locals and visitors from the world over in town for the Super Bowl. After all, it is one of the most memorable pieces of art exhibited in Indianapolis in recent memory. The installation consists of a great number of light-sensing nightlights arranged floor to ceiling in a tight grid on each wall of the space. Viewer’s bodies, shadows and movements trigger the lights in their respective shapes. The effect is stunning, and this is certainly one of the most crowd-pleasing and enjoyable installations. Black walls would be better than gray to emphasize the lights, but this is not a big issue. (CF)

click to enlarge Anila Quayyum Agha, 'My Forked Tongue' - STEPHEN SIMONETTO

12. Anila Quayyum Agha, My Forked Tongue
4 Stars

The paper cut-out letters that you see dangling down from the ceiling in this installation, on hundreds of pieces of thread, are from the Urdu, Hindi, and English alphabets. The shadows created by these letters overlap one another on the walls. The takeaway here might be that languages, as well as the cultures they derive from, do not develop in a vacuum. American English — and American culture — is no exception in this regard. (DG)

13. Brian James Priest with Christopher Iseri, Stardust to Stardust
4.5 stars

First you see a black spiral of a galaxy drawn on an opened paper roll that resembles a giant Torah scroll. As your eyes become more accustomed to the dim light, you can see pieces of bone-like shards of charcoal on the paper. The artists created this drawing by scraping a life-sized skeleton built out of charcoal against the paper until it disintegrated. This act of creative destruction alludes to the fact that all carbon atoms — which make life on earth possible — were born in the bellies of stars. This installation also reminds us that our tenure on this planet is just a temporary one. (DG)

14. Jamie Pawlus, Sanctuary (Apocalyptic Considerations)
3.5 stars

According to the Mayan calendar, the world will end on December 21, 2012. Among the preparatory goals Jamie Pawlus has, she says, is to read the writing on the wall. Among the slogans and refrains painted on the walls here is the chorus from the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Perhaps this refrain takes on new meaning in the face of the apocalypse, but more important than having such refrains at hand — in preparation for a post-grid age — is the taking care of certain bodily functions. So it’s fitting that the centerpiece here is the life-size outhouse, glowing with a mysterious interior light, that Pawlus dubs “Sanctuary.” (DG)

click to enlarge Mike Lyons, 'A Rapid Validation' - DAN GROSSMAN
15. and 23. Mike Lyons, A Rapid Validation
2.5 stars

Many in the business world might aspire for the corner office, but installation artists aren’t office workers. Mike Lyons was given two corner spaces to work with on the IDADA Pavilion’s second floor, one of which appeared a little cramped. Lyons attempted, admirably, to make full use of the larger space by recreating an artist’s studio there. In the smaller space, I wasn’t sure what was going on. Lyons looks at art making, he says, as “an opportunity for self-improvement and self-maintenance...” But I saw his recreated studio as a lost opportunity for visitors to come in and make their own art, or at least to come in and amble around. Instead, you’re not even permitted to enter. (DG)

16. Jeremy Tubbs, Btfsplk Techne
3 stars

Jeremy Tubbs considers Joe Btfsplk, a character in the Lil’ Abner comic strip, to be a true Stoic. You may recall, if you’re of a certain age, that Al Capp depicted Btfsplk as one shadowed by an ever-present black cloud. With this depiction in mind, Tubbs recreated a black cloud sculpture that you can stand under while contemplating your own pre-determined destiny, if you like. This cloud is attached to wires that were designed to whisk the cloud from one point to another in the installation space. Unfortunately, this cloud was fixed in place on opening night, due to mechanical problems. (DG)

17. Justin Chase Lane, Edge of Town
3 stars

This installation certainly succeeds in creating an edge of town feel. You step into this space that, with its black walls and mechanical detritus on the floor, may make you think that you’re in a broken down warehouse. But what redeems this installation, and makes it worth your time, is the hole in the wall through which you see the light of day. You also see — and hear — through this hole, a passing train. (DG)

18. Lobyn Hamilton, Vinyl Downpour
4 stars

Through a giant water spout protruding from the wall near the ceiling of this installation space, you see a downpour of vinyl EPs and LPs, frozen in time, dropping down all the way to the floor. You also see a four-foot-high splash surrounding the downpour, composed of numerous album sleeves. (Just try imagining a liquid containing the repertoire of Kanye West, Pat Boone, and Barry Manilow.) The individual discs that comprise this sculpture are part of Hamilton’s massive record collection which he uses more for his unique, dead-on portraiture than for listening. (DG)

19. Holly Streekstra, Step on this Side of the Curtain
5 stars

When you step beyond this curtain, you find yourself in a Victorian parlor. In the center of the parlor is a table on which rests a spirit trumpet and a chalkboard. As the lights flicker, and as a strange scent wafts into your nostrils, you hear the manipulated recording of a séance, recorded in 1936, designed to contact Harry Houdini. And when you look around the room, you see that the wall mirror doesn’t reward you with your own reflection. You might find yourself thinking, at some point, that you’re in a dream. I mean the kind of dream where you find yourself looking around for something real, to convince yourself that you’re not dreaming. (DG)

20. Ratio Architects, Design Matters
2 stars

The panels incorporated into this installation feature images of Indy’s architectural gems. The backsides of these wood panels, used in the tower-like centerpiece, are bare and unvarnished—and clearly visible to the viewer. It’s as if an architect designed just a building's façade and left the interior to the occupants. You might have hoped that this architectural firm, which designed the Indiana State Museum, would have put a little more thought into an installation that is supposed to showcase Indy’s architectural gems to the world. (DG)

21. Lesley Baker, Bull in a China Shop
4 stars

Lesley Baker constructed this giant bull in a china shop out of used shipping pallets: unyielding, dangerous, and dirty material. But the fact that just about everything we buy in stores is shipped on such pallets — much of it coming from China — gives this installation a multiplicity of possible meanings. Such meanings might not have emerged in this installation if Baker had used a different material like, say, paper mache. (DG)

click to enlarge Kipp Normand, 'A Fanfare for Mayor Charles Bookwalter' - STEPHEN SIMONETTO
22. Kipp Normand, Fanfare for Mayor Charles Bookwalter
4.5 stars

This installation employs defunct musical instruments as bricks to build “a palace made of junk,” in honor of Charles Bookwalter, who served as Indianapolis mayor from 1906-1910. The “palace” resides in the space in the Old City Hall building which would’ve been his office — if he’d won his reelection campaign. Bookwalter never was able to move into this office because the building was completed in 1910, the year of his defeat. This is ironic, because he’s the mayor who proposed the building’s construction in the first place. Normand’s “fanfare” may be a silent one, but it’s nevertheless a brilliant evocation of an overlooked corner of this city’s history. (DG)

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