[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
June 2 - 9, 2000

[Art Reviews]

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The insect makes its debut at Decordova's annual exhibition

by Leon Nigrosh

At the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, through September 4.

The DeCordova's annual summer showcase happens to be in its 10th year, and this traditionally un-themed exhibit has for a decade stymied critics yearning to draw comparisons and to make grand statements about contemporary New England artists. But this year, in their zeal to retain the lack of a specific theme, the curators have inadvertently created several possibilities, not the least of which is bugs.

Of the 10 artists, about half feature works that either include or are related to insects. The most physically imposing is Apiary, a 100-foot-diameter installation by Laura Baring-Gould, a Clark University art teacher. This yurt-like structure, which spirals upward from floor to ceiling, is constructed entirely with wrapped hay. And it's a complete sensual experience. First there is the smell of the hay, then you see the free-blown glass ampoules filled with five different grades of honey; feel the rough sheet copper floor, and hear the random buzz of bees at work around their hive.

It took 180 hours just to wrap the hay. In fact, Baring-Gould names nearly 80 people on her thank-you list for such things as blowing the glass, creating structural elements, recording the bees, and gathering honey. It is as if she is the Queen Bee in charge of but dependent upon her workers.

Another theme inadvertently introduced in this year's selection is the use of unconventional materials such as coffee filters and dryer sheets. Worcester artist Patricia Trevisan Woods employs these items, along with handmade paper, beaver sticks, and eucalyptus pods, in the construction of her garment sculptures. Still complying with the unintentional insect theme, her Moth Cloak and Beetle Cape are patterned after these arthropods by gluing and stitching washed, dried, and ironed coffee filters in intricate formations that look much like gossamer wings. The used filters also lend an old-world look to Three Dresses with their bodices, ruffles, and flounces set off by accents of white handmade paper.

Not fitting into any of the unintended themes -- but notable for their spookiness -- are Ri Anderson's photographs of dead people. Well, they're not really dead. Taking the camp "Untitled Film Stills" scenes by photographer Cindy Sherman to the next level, Anderson poses herself in the same cocktail dress as deceased within specific settings. In Road Out of Roswell, New Mexico, April 29, 1998, Dusk, we see her face down on a dirt road with a rock near her head. From the right foreground, the headlights of an automobile illuminate the morbid scene. And we can see the partial reflection of the driver in the outside mirror. We are left to wonder what we are looking at. The juxtaposition of elements creates an illusory vision that implicates the viewer as voyeur, witness, or even as an accessory-after-the-fact.

In an enclosed space separated from the rest of the exhibition, and taking the insect thing to the nth degree, Remo Campopiano has created a miniature city with his 16-foot-diameter installation Under the Volcano. Constructed of cut-up circuit boards and computer parts arranged around a large mound of sand, this city of the future is a fantasy landscape by itself. But it's populated by 2500 live California Harvester ants! The ants live in the sand mound and venture through the "metropolis" toward the water supply that rings the city like a moat. Along the way, they move sand down from the hill, already shifting more than four inches from the top since the exhibit's opening. By the time the show closes, the ants may have buried the entire city.

Campopiano sees his city and the ant colony as a metaphor for humanity, relating the constant ant activities to our own. As he notes, "It's really not the ants that will be observed -- the museum visitor is also Under the Volcano." To this end he has aimed two video cameras at the installation, which viewers can control; there's a third camera pointed at visitors. These real-time images can be seen on monitors at the museum's entrance and also on line at http://remo.net/volcano. Is this art? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's captivating.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (781) 259-8355.


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