The new mantra of life on earth is very simple, as it has to do with the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. How do we begin to change our lifestyles? When do we realize our throw-away society no longer works in a world that believes “out of sight, out of mind” is an excuse to throw everyday objects into the trash? Our collective and global society must change in order to save our planet.
Many objects in our everyday world move through our lives without much notice. However, seven artists have found beauty and inspiration in these mundane pieces of stuff, and they have made them into masterpieces, literally creating beautiful and thought-provoking treasures from trash. At this exhibit, you will uncover symbolism in unconventional substances such as aluminum cans, cleaning sponges, construction debris, corsage pins, masking tape, office supplies and wrapping paper, just to name a few.
“Material Transformations” was originally developed for a 3,000-square-foot gallery space at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art (MMFA). Through a collaborative effort, MOCA Jacksonville brings this exhibit to Jacksonville, where it will be installed into an expanded and transformed 5,500-square-foot space.
Jennifer Jankowski, curator of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts saw the potential for people to experience contemporary art in a new way. “The exhibit is accessible; it is an entry point,” she explains, “and once people are engaged, they can dive into more than a clever adaption of every day materials or objects that most would never consider giving a second thought.” She goes on to explain how people began to talk about what’s happening in the world today, our over-consumption of stuff, the relationship to animals and social, environmental and political issues. “People were surprised because it was an unusual installation using such different materials,” she says.
“What was appealing to me, and what I believe will be the broad appeal to the public, is the exhibit’s accessibility. There is a common entry point, the materials,” says Ben Thompson, MOCA curator. “All artists are working methodically in their particular craft in the same genre. People are always interested in the complex process of an artist’s work. I think they will think, ‘Oh, that’s a sponge!’ or ‘That’s a trash can!’ The connection may be immediate for some and take longer for others.”
Thompson contextualizes this exhibit by referencing two periods in Art History for us. In the 20th century, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1978) pioneered the Dada movement (1916-1923). Creations used what he called “readymades”, which posed a question to the viewer, “what is art?” Art was presented not to just please the eye, but also to allow the viewer to connect with everyday materials used to make the resulting art piece.
“Dada allowed a conceptual approach of validating these readymade assemblages as an art form,” Thompson says. “The Arts and Crafts movement (1860-1910) presented the mark of the maker’s hand and the pride of material and workmanship, and that is evident in this exhibit.”
“The physicality of material and workmanship used in making something with your hands is important, and we are losing that in our digital age,” says Thompson. He is convinced the public will find it easy to connect with this transformative exhibit, as it is a reflection and a reaction to our own technical advances in this new century.
Each artist had an opportunity to send multiple works to showcase their in-depth approach of turning trash to incredible works of art. This assembly of artists working in this genre has been two years in the making, and MOCA is pleased to be able to partner with MMFA to bring this extraordinary exhibit to Jacksonville.
Johnson Foster is from the United States but lives in Canada. Known as a virtuoso for his use of trash, he is influenced by Aesop’s fables and various myths, as evidenced by his 6’x7’x9’ Big Tipper, a larger-than-life, two-headed giant turtle with an amazing, multi-course dinner about to fall off its back. This work is monstrous and humorous, as it combines comedy and dark commentary, while making socio-political statements. The result presents Foster’s ability to manipulate various materials by bending and molding high density plastic into shape using drywall screws with power tools, hand tools and carpentry skills. He features animals in his work as stand-ins for humans, giving them a life-like quality. He epitomizes our cultural greed and makes a passionate point through the use of his magical alchemy and a unique combination of stylistic objects, forcing the viewer to think about over-consumption and throw-away material objects put relentlessly into our life-stream.
Paul Villinski produces butterflies cut from aluminum cans. Villinski uses a coating of candle soot on his butterflies, which alludes to a cleansing by fire, resulting in an aged appearance. The darkening of the work denotes the evolution of the peppered moth in England that adapted its coloring from light to black in reaction to coal soot during the Industrial Revolution, again evoking the power of transformation. No two of his butterflies are the same. In another piece, his vinyl birds were developed from found, warped, abandoned and now obsolete vinyl music albums in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward after Katrina. These vinyl bird-like altered forms allude to the old way music was delivered in contrast to our changing technologies and fast-paced digital world.
Kirsten Hassenfeld creates stars that will light up her darkened gallery. She uses gift-wrap paper with mixed media to create opulent and luxurious sculptures. Her large-scale ornaments or light fixtures look like sophisticated mathematical formulations as each three-dimensional skin of various patterned paper is showcased with a light glowing from within, thus transforming the piece into a worldly object. She uses quilting techniques and straw marquetry, a labor-intensive process developed in the 17th century, which involves splitting, flattening and gluing straw to create decorative finishes on fine furniture. Her flattened rolled paper tubes are formed into basic star shapes. Then, Hassenfeld installs her patterns and creates a pulsating ring of color that swirls across the walls. She emphasizes that over time, paper becomes brittle and tears. She feels this is a natural disintegration, which she uses as an analogy for our transient lives and our preoccupation with material goods. “My work is inspired, in part, by the vernacular handiwork that was ubiquitous in the households of American settlers,” says Hassenfeld. “I use carefully saved odds and ends from my daily life (bottle caps, thread spools, envelopes, wrapping paper, etc.) to craft complex abstract and pictorial artworks. Although not as functional as the patchwork quilts that kept generations of poor Americans warm at night, my works do nod to many traditions that kept the wolf from the door (weaving, caning, tinwork, patching, and so on). I value the thrift and ingenuity apparent in much of our material heritage as Americans.”
Alison Foshee uses standard office products, such as staples and paper adhesive labels. She recreates on paper by making various leaf patterns and the distinctive feathers of assorted birds. She also enlarges and explodes flower forms based on historical Dutch still-life paintings, turning them into swirling riots of colorful patterns. Her process is obsessive and meditative, allowing her to change the mundane into the extraordinary. “As satisfying as it is to create something beautiful, nothing can compare to the moment of discovery when the materials reveal their true nature,” says Allison.
Angela Ellsworth delves into women’s issues by creating pioneer-style bonnets, each covered in approximately 20,000 pearl-tipped corsage pins. These designs feature recognition of the Mormon-based seer stones and to the conversations she listened to amongst the women in her studio when she was working on the bonnets. She alludes to the cultural constraints and challenges women from all faiths around the world face in their everyday lives. The juxtaposition of the beautiful, but fake, pearl tips of the pins with their sharp, dangerous steel points underneath each bonnet may elicit conversations by the viewers, because if actually worn, the wearer would meet a slow, tortured and fatal demise – danger lurks amid the beautiful.
Rune Olsen’s 3-D sculpture includes drawn graphic lines along with newspaper and tape to create extraordinary animal forms with easy-to-find materials, or “social materials,” items that anyone could find and use, such as newspaper and masking tape. By blending these common objects, his animals explore both human and animal behaviors, some disruptive like those we are not willing to see within ourselves, such as jealousy. He includes one object he terms “non-social material” – they are glass eyes hand-painted specifically for him in Germany, which look like his own eyes, which he then puts inside his sculptures making them look like they are looking back at the viewer. His work addresses both universal and personal social issues. He also expresses the idea of short-term gratification that threatens species, such as elephants, now on the verge of extinction. The root of another work is to express how we as humans continue to anthropomorphize objects and animals. This work shows a dog playfully hiding in a bag of packing peanuts. Is the dog in imminent danger of being shipped? You decide.
Lucrecia Troncoso links her work with the Tree of Life and creation. Her art grows directly from the gallery wall, with twisting branches and fluttering leaves casting shadows on the existing architecture, connecting the organic and the man-made. She intertwines the organic with the man-made by using sliced, assembled and shaped common cleaning sponges made of cellulose, a string of molecules found within plant walls; thus she has created a tree form from a plant-based object, yet the result is still a manufactured object, adding an ironic dimension. The metaphorical reference to the cleansing of the earth is an important aspect of her subtle, very powerful work. Her evocative installations will have the viewer focusing on their personal connection to nature versus her works’ representation.
Each artist’s gallery promises to be illusionary and transformative. Collectively, this has all the elements of a blockbuster exhibition.Denise Reagan, MOCA communications director, believes regional art lovers will enjoy this exhibit and those who usually do not come to exhibits may well put MOCA on their calendars. “They will see the intricacy of the craft,” says Reagan.
She anticipates many discussions will begin as eyes start to dissect each piece and the viewer reimagines the work, as the search begins to try to find the throw-away “idea” behind each piece. During MOCA’s Sunday ArtFusion classroom program, projects will be themed around “Material Transformations.” The goal is to make people think differently about trash, urging participants to envision trash as treasure.
“Many people still remember the frugal times during the Great Depression,” Reagan reminds us. “Because of the recession we are relearning those lessons and finding the value in not simply throwing things away.”
These artists show how to take our common trash to a higher level. They show us what can be. Maybe some who experience will think twice about throwing common, everyday objects away and reuse them.
So, why not reduce, reuse and recycle? From the largest two-headed turtle to the smallest staples on paper, this is a show not to be missed – it delivers a strong and very important message.
This exhibition is sponsored by Harbinger/Florida Mining Gallery. Special thanks goes to contributing sponsors: Agility Press, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, City of Jacksonville, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and WJCT Public Broadcasting.
During Art Walk, free admission to MOCA is made possible by Florida Blue. For more information, go to www.mocajax.org.