To quote the curatorial statement from HAND/MADE, a group exhibition of faculty and students at MICA, “Artwork is rarely made by one lone artist. Who is the author? Who should sign the artwork?” This idea is particularly relevant in today’s hyper connected culture: Is it possible to take individual ownership of a work of art? Is 100% autonomously generated artwork a real thing any more, when influence and inspiration are unavoidable? HAND/MADE explores this concept in ways that surprise and at times, perplex.
There are twelve distinct pieces in HAND/MADE, a multimedia collection all somehow linked to Sleeping Children, William Henry Rinehart’s original marble sculpture carved in 1869 of two sleeping children on a bed locked in embrace. The pieces are arranged around a large blue room, some standing sculptures others wall oriented. As you walk around the exhibition, some of the pieces relate to the original marble children, but most have evolved into abstracted forms that barely reference the source of their inspiration. The exhibit features a range of objects including a pile of blown glass potatoes on a clay pillow, a video of figures garbed in white, busts of Sam the Eagle, a multiple choice questionnaire with marble-in-jar response option, a miniature rendering of a man’s bust and moose head with directions for the viewer to Instagram it, and a deconstructed ship
One can clearly see the connection to Sleeping Children in some of the pieces, but for others the links grow more hazy. As in many experimental exhibits, some are unique and interesting, while others fall short in their execution. For example, the sculpture entitled Legacy, a laser cut buckram piece resembling a ruffled collar, at first glance seems to hold little relevance to the focal point of the exhibit. But with further analysis one can see the associations it brings up between wearable art and sculptural art in its three dimensional and textural nature, further linked to Sleeping Children in its whiteness and nod to styles from the past. This piece also explores the motif of authorship in that its original design inspiration came from a mixture of eras and cultures—Japanese origami and old Dutch fashion, compounded by the fact that many hands were at work in the final creation.
A piece that falls short of any meaningful connections on the other hand is Monument, an anthropomorphic steel sculpture. Monument appears as if someone took a chunk off a Richard Serra and dropped it in the middle of the gallery. It breaks up the whitewashed tones of every other piece but not in a way that seems intentional—rather, like a blob of brown metal cubism in the middle of a marble-inspired collection. It is unclear whether it intends to relate to the theme of the exhibition through its apparent reference to art historical sculpture, and this confusion, as well as its complete abstraction, pushes the boundaries of the show’s theme so far it breaks.
Jarringly different, yet endowed with ties to Sleeping Children is the five minute long video Wind by Maren Hassinger, Ava Hassinger, and Nicholas Buchanan. Wind’s juxtaposition to Rinehart’s work is clearer than some of the others—the two figures in the video echo the sleeping children on an aesthetic level, both swaddled in white gauzy fabric. Yet the video medium is the absolute converse of marble in every way. Instead of the bodies and fall of drapery frozen in marble, they are constantly moving, set outdoors and enhanced by the wind. Even through their esoteric dance, it is clear that the two figures in Wind are intimately bonded—mother and daughter its plaque states, further linking to the familial embrace of Rinehart’s children. Yet despite these links and contrasts, Wind comes across as strained. It works in theory, but the video drags: white fabric billowing in wind can only keep one’s attention for so long. In addition, the video is placed in a corner so that the projected image is warped. The effect isn’t intentional enough in a gallery too cramped to properly house all of the pieces.
A wall questionnaire acts as a general commentary for the entire exhibition; it asks the viewer who is the true artist of a piece of artwork. The options supplied in the questionnaire on the wall are A. The person who conceived of the original idea, B. The person who coordinates the execution of the work, C. The people who physically make the work, and D. All Parties involved.
At the end of the circuit Nancy Daly’s works #Wildlife and #TheKing however, offers an option E. Daly instructs the viewer to photograph her tiny figurines, apply a filter to them and upload them to Instagram. Her work comments on the ways in which we as viewers have become the curators of the 21st century, digitizing and showcasing our lives through the gallery of social media. # is participatory; it is not complete until viewers repost their three-dimensional work into a two dimensional format, under their own authorship. In this way, HAND/MADE answers the very question it asks. Every perception of work is unique and processed differently by each and every individual. In this way, the viewer is as much the artist as any one else involved in the creation of art. You are the author of what you perceive.
Event information: http://fyi.mica.edu/event/handmade#.VOaZplPF-5I
1300 W Mount Royal Avenue
Baltimore MD 21217-4134
January 30th-March 15th
Sophie Mancini is a New York based writer studying in Baltimore. She enjoys riding ATVs, reading minimalist literature, and eating kimchi.