Indianapolis Museum of Art

Through Dec. 3

Here’s what I think I understand about spurse: It’s a collective of international, interdisciplinary collaborators (some of whom are artists) who challenge hierarchies — and they’ve conducted environmental-institutional studies that examine how and where these hierarchies fall apart (or fall into place) in various settings. Just how this happens remains a mystery: though I strove to understand it when I visited their latest project at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Rebecca Uchill, IMA’s associate curator of contemporary art, describes the spurse-IMA collaboration as “a very thorough examination of the workings of the museum.” This examination is supposed to look at “nature vs. culture” within the context of the IMA. To this end, spurse members working with local collaborators put together a nomadic laboratory called The Center for the Study of the Collective (CSC) on the third-floor balcony of the museum in its “Off the Wall” space. From this base they attempt to answer the question, “What will arise if all bacteria [and fungus, insects, dust, water, chalk, artworks, events, and all museum staff] were treated as part of the same event or conversation?”

In practical terms, if you visit the spurse space, here’s what you’ll find: Alongside the wall, shelf after shelf of Ball jars are filled with beet-colored sludge, while other jars resemble things in my refrigerator that are no longer identifiable. Work stations are set up with microscopes. There’s a cabinet filled with vials of detritus from the museum proper, such as “Maya Lin seeds” and “top roof.” Dust and mold samples are piled up in plastic bags. Computer stations allow you to view images of fungi photographed around the museum grounds. There are several spurse DVDs available for viewing, one of which includes shaky footage of spurse members tromping through IMA grounds. (You can also take a crack at the spurse audio tour, as I did.)

Taken as a whole, the pieces may be too difficult to connect without a great deal of effort and digging around, possibly feeling absurd in the process. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it might call both the uninitiated and initiated viewer to ask that dreaded and somewhat tired question, Is this art?

What I gleaned is that yes, indeed, there are things created by the combinations of other things, sometimes by chance, sometimes by intention, and these things are often fungi, and they can be beautiful, like a glowing, bulb-headed mushroom, and they can be ugly, like moldy spores at the bottom of an unwashed glass. How these come together, and how we make meaning from them, can be art, but somehow creativity must be a component. The most compelling question spurse raises in this context is the notion of agency: who is the creator?

Uchill may have said it best: “I guess in being a little ridiculous it exposes something more profound or thought provoking.”

To learn more about the spurse project or upcoming related events at the IMA, such as the spurse symposium beginning Nov. 2, visit www.ima-art.org or call 317-923-1331.



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