Take 5

by Lynn M. Herbert

Installation work offers an artist the chance to really envelop a viewer both physically and mentally in a way that a two-dimensional work hanging on a wall cannot. The five artists in this exhibit each went about it in a different way.

Visitors to the gallery were first greeted by David Joyce’s “flying figures” (cut-out photographs of ordinary people suspended as if in flight) swooping down against a sky-blue backdrop displayed in the front windows. Joyce is better known for his earthbound cutout figures, such as the life-size fat man reading the paper, who was placed in the back of the gallery and startled viewers even though he’s printed in black and white. Finding that he frequently dreamed of flying, Joyce let his models “take flight” and has permanently installed 156 of them in “Flight Patterns,” a 235-foot mural at the Eugene, Oregon Airport. At HCP, one tended to want to see the figures flying more freely, rather than isolated against the front windows with very little depth in which to maneuver.

Robert Flynt’s installation was more cerebral and two-dimensional even though his images and objects were carefully scattered all over the walls allotted him. His piece included underwater photographs of men swimming, anatomical drawings, maps, Greek sculpture, wrapping paper, and bits of Plexiglas and mirror all which combined to subtly explore eroticism and the concept of boundaries.

Susan Kirchman’s “Fears and Phobias” was anything but subtle. Kirchman placed the viewer on a street surrounded by chaotic computer printout skyscrapers everywhere you looked. Plexiglas “silhouette” figures stood around you looking up to the sky in horror making you feel like you were in one of those Japanese horror films where the giant monster comes down out of the sky to get you, trapped in metropolis. In case you still had any hope, a glance into one corner revealed “you” behind bars on a video screen. It was pointed out to me that some of the buildings were from the San Francisco skyline, thus the earthquake reference, but hey, I was already scared.

On a sweeter note, Gillian Brown recreated for us a homey but cunning scene of kids in their PJs sitting on the staircase, teddy bears in hand. On the side table in front of the staircase was a small photo album offering clues in the form of two snapshots: one being the image of the kids (one of them, Gilliam as a child) on the staircase, and the other of Gillian today dressed up to look like “Mom” back then coming out of the kitchen. While pondering the interrelationships presented in the album, one could step back and admire how adroitly Brown recreated the black and white snapshots of kids on the staircase onto an actual staircase. By projecting the image and making a photorealistic black and white painting on the 3D staircase very painstakingly, Brown enables the viewer to “see” that black and white snapshot come alive if they stand in the exact spot she used as her point of reference.

As a physical and mental challenge, W. Snyder MacNeil’s “Nuclear Portrait” was the most successful. Viewers entered a dark room lit only by two video monitors, one facing a bed, the other facing a sofa. The monitors offered enough light to enable you to take a seat, and off you went into the world of MacNeil’s 6 ½ minute tape confronting you with rhythms: an actual childbirth, a frog swimming in a bath tub, telephones ringing, someone snoring, a baby breastfeeding, a child playing with Daddy, rain coming down on trees in the darkness as a car drives away, alarm clocks going off, a child finger painting with bold red paint, a pregnant stomach looking like a sunrise… At this point your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and you see a 40” x 60” image of mars suspended in the corner of the room in front of you looking very much like that pregnant stomach you just saw. The tape with all of its allusions to the rhythms of our lives comes back on. You begin to question why you sat on the sofa instead of the bed, or vice versa. And once you’ve taken it all in, you stand to leave this seductive world, and are confronted by a mirror reflecting you and Mars, cleverly reminding you that you’re a part of this world MacNeil is presenting.

Installation work allows artists the chance to step outside their work a bit and tackle challenging new parameters. We don’t see it as often as we would like because, quite frankly, it’s costly in terms of time and money for artists and galleries alike. Thanks should go to all parties involved with 3x5 for making it happen and for offering viewers a wealth of things to ponder.