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April 12 - 18, 2001

[Art Reviews]

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Form and Chaos

New sculptures from Hebert, Lougee at the Aurora

by Leon Nigrosh

at the ARTSWorcester Gallery at the Aurora, 660 Main Street, through April 27.

There's a remarkable aura at the Aurora right now. The current exhibition is the locus for several unique activities within the ARTSWorcester Gallery. This is the first time that the orga-

nization has had an appropriate venue in which to present large scale three-dimensional work. It is also the first time that Maureen Keller Hebert and Michelle Lougee have shown their work together. And this is the first time many visitors will come away with the odd feeling that while they were admiring the artworks, something just beyond their peripheral vision may have moved.

But what is even more extraordinary about this exhibition is the fact that these two artists, who both produce their sculptural works in a markedly similar manner, had never met before. It was AW's program director Ann McTigue who noticed the similarities during a jurying session and introduced the two women to each other. There was an immediate rapport and the results, which are currently on display, speak for themselves. Both artists attempt to present their philosophical examination of the relationships between technology and nature through the use of natural objects in combination with human detritus.

Because these two approach their subject matter with such strongly related concepts and excellent workmanship, you often have to check the wall labels to see which person did what. But, in time, the differences sort themselves out. Lougee's four-foot long floor piece, Evolution, is a large, gnarly, insect-like formation built from vines, tire treads, and rusted screening, all encased in a heavily waxed husk. It just sits there, mute, yet in an eerie fashion it speaks about the conflict between man and nature. Several of her other works are based upon chestnut pods that have opened to reveal their contents. Turf, a twig-festooned, 18-inch long waxed terra-cotta hull, usually standing on its mouth, has its interior carpeted with Astroturf. This work questions the advisability of artificial beautification at the expense of nature. Chips, is a similarly shaped container, only its exterior is laden with computer and electrical parts, while the interior is coated with natural bark, its title an obvious double entendre.

There is also just a dash of humor in one of her floor pieces, Scurry. Set on a 3 by 4-foot sand pile, an envelope of heavily waxed dark brown paper emits a stream of two dozen small pod creatures with colorful wire antennae that appear to be slithering away - complete with tracks in the sand. Wait -- did that one just wiggle?

Hebert's works in this show relate primarily to birds and the concept of nesting, with all its maternal ramifications. Her 6-foot tall Cradle Covey suspends a plaster cube nest in a steel tripod with plaster eggs randomly scattered below. A 4-foot diameter Nestled also employs hand-formed plaster eggs, this time couched in a bed of hay and protected by welded steel straps. Even a human could feel comfortable and sheltered in this hemispherical environment.

Scale is of little consequence to Hebert. Although she has offered us these large sculptures, she also has a series of tiny pieces ensconced in Plexiglas boxes like Guinea Hen, a 2-inch tall cube of feathers, and Nest, a little waxed cube with miniature eggs safely tied in with thread. Shifting gears again, Hebert presents us with a floor piece called Erinaceus, 13 white plaster balls of various sizes bristling with threaded twigs and placed on a spiral of rock salt. Once the title is deciphered, we realize that the work is humorously associated with a family of hedgehogs.

With such correspondingly fine-tuned attitudes and approaches to their individual artworks, what could be more fitting than a collaborative effort by the two artists. The pièce de résistance in this exhibit is Hover, a very large, waxed, paper-mâché pod containing strands of vines, hay, and wire, suspended just above a sand pile. Here the sensibilities of both artists merge to present a single visual statement regarding not only the formal artistic associations between the varied materials, but also to comment on the direction civilization has headed with its apparent disregard for things natural.

Individually, these 19 sculptures present a unique opportunity to examine the riches of nature from a new, and thoughtful, angle. Together, they generate a silent plea to help conserve and protect an environment on the verge of chaos.

The ARTSWorcester Gallery at the Aurora is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be an artist's reception on Friday, April 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. Call 508-755-5142.


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