Finding Art in Unexpected Places

Artists show the ordinary can be extraordinary and the ugly, beautiful

STORY AND PHOTOS BY LILY BETJEMAN
Used pantyhose secured by safety pins resemble a cascade of sorts in this assemblage piece titled Passing Life/Waterfalls by artist Tamiko Kawata.
Used pantyhose secured by safety pins resemble a cascade of sorts in this assemblage piece titled Passing Life/Waterfalls by artist Tamiko Kawata.

Tinkers, Artists, Innovators: Bricolage might justify a hoarder’s conviction that junk serves a purpose, but a deeper look reveals a playful inquiry into the meaning of objects. What happens when cast-off possessions are re-purposed with a new intention? Bricolage is an open invitation to play both physically and mentally. The exhibit opened at the Rockland Center for the Arts in West Nyack on Sunday and will remain open until March 30.

Inspired by the DIY and Maker movements, the exhibit features a selection of work under the umbrella term Bricolage, meaning construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand. DIY (Do It Yourself) is the culture of creating, building and problem solving through skill sharing and information dissemination as an alternative to purchasing mass-produced items or paying a specialist. Within DIY culture is the Maker movement, with an emphasis on technology and hacking.

Curator Patricia Miranda felt the seed of Bricolage germinating while considering two of the exhibiting artists in relation to one another: Nancy Bowen and Chris Kaczmarek. Bowen’s work is direct nod to assemblage, while Kaczmarek experiments with old electronics remade into sound machines and solar-powered sound sculptures. The mix of a more traditional approach to Bricolage in Bowen’s work with Kaczmarek’s use of modern technology felt like a strong foundation for the show.

Tinkering with Chris Kaczmarek’s scratch built electronic instruments.
Tinkering with Chris Kaczmarek’s scratch built electronic instruments.

Miranda is an artist and educator as well as curator. She is interested in the intersection of art, science and innovation, themes she’s exploring with Bricolage. Her exhibit ‘Alchemical Tech’ was shown at the 2013 Maker Faire in New York and was selected as an editor’s pick for Make Magazine.

“Unlike scientists, we [artists] don’t have to prove things,” said Miranda.

While proof isn’t on the agenda, inquiry certainly is. Four of the six pieces are interactive, one of them being performance-based.

Maria Michails’ human-powered installation from the ‘Petri Series: BENZENE’ is provocative. LED lights illuminate beautiful fluorescent images of cancer cells when participants pedal the photo-sculpture to life. The images are housed in petri dishes inside hexagonal metal structures in the formation of the benzene molecule, a known carcinogen found in petrochemicals.

There’s a conflict between the beautiful images of a not beautiful disease, said Michails. Another tension exists in the fated-ness of the reality we’re creating for ourselves – near-certain destruction by petroleum.

A human-powered automotive mechanism illuminates flourescent cancer cell images linked with the benzene molecule, a carcinogen found in petroleum, in this installation by Maria Michails.
A human-powered automotive mechanism illuminates flourescent cancer cell images linked with the benzene molecule, a carcinogen found in petroleum, in this installation by Maria Michails.

‘Alpha-Bit,’ led by Kaczmarek, performed a several minute noise piece with four band members. Ambulance sirens layered with outer space soundscapes had the effect of flossing parts of the brain one isn’t normalized to. Kaczmarek compared the style of sound art to a Pollack painting. What abstract expressionism does for the visual field Kaczmarek aims to achieve through auditory experience. But as in a Pollack painting, there’s a visceral control in the artist’s hand, despite its apparent chaos.

“It takes hours of practice to get good noise,” said Kaczmarek.

Rebecca Mushtare’s ‘StoryQuilt’ invites participants to record a story into a faux sewing machine, playing with the oral tradition of storytelling associated with quilting. Computer software interprets the tone, content and style of the storyteller’s voice, and projects a custom quilt onto the wall.

There’s a pleasing contradiction in the objects used in Bricolage, typically discarded without care, like old pantyhose and out of date electronics, repurposed with an aim to create a new experience. Tamiko Kawata’s ‘Passing Life/Waterfalls’ is an absorbing work of pinned together pantyhose. The context gives new life to the many hand-me-downs.

‘Habitat for Artists,’ by Marnie Hillsley and Simon Draper, is a moveable mini-abode for the public to interact with artists and the role of art in community.

While the aim of art can be ambiguous, its value, according to Miranda, is plain.

“People don’t go to Paris to visit the banks,” Miranda said.

There will be a special workshop series for youth held on the weekend of February 22-23. On Saturday, February 22, there will be a Sound circuit workshop for ages 13-17 with Chris Kaczmarek. On Sunday, February 23, there will be a DIY Power Plant (ages 10-15) with Maria Michails. Visit rocklandartcenter.org for more information.