Site Specifics '07, CarriageHouse Arts

By Janet M. Goleas

CarriageHouse Arts at Islip Art Museum is, by definition, one of the principal sites for experimental art on Long Island. This summer, six artists were invited by curator Karen Shaw to address the architecture and material properties within the historic Carriage House in the exhibit, Site Specifics '07. Each work in this energetic show was made to order–no off-the-rack art included here–specific to the physical structure and ambiance of the nearly 100 year-old residence that originally housed the family horse and buggy.

Aurora RobsonAurora Robson has created a netherworld of amphibious forms and creature shapes that hover like lazy microbes in Gallery #1. A translucent canopy of strings and strands floats down, cascading above and around the artist's sea of spiny, unknowable shapes. Like a giant terrarium, the room is teeming with organisms. Dense and cluttered with undergrowth, the room holds these mysterious shapes and the "something" that is something recognizable in the presence of the room. The translucent bodies, unceremoniously riveted and nailed, tied and squeezed, pulled taut and yanked from end to end, eventually reveal themselves to be sliced and manipulated plastic cups, soda pop bottles and synthetic debris writhing with the presence of a living thing in an animated laboratory.

At the end of the hall a heavy white drapery covers the entrance to Gallery #2 where Boris Rasin and Kenny Komer have installed an oceanic "realm of the senses". Beyond the curtain lay a dark interior filled with the ambient sounds of crashing waves. The blackness is punctuated by a faint cone of light moving in a circle from a core axis at the center of the room. As one's eyes adjust, the silhouette of a lighthouse appears, its beacon turning slowly to highlight a patch of horizon as it spins around the circumference of the room. The searchlight crawls across the wall in a slow rotation, identifying architectural details along the way, but summarily defining the endless horizontality that is lit only by this faint spot. The sense of isolation is palpable, and not in any way comforting. Suddenly, in the far away distance, a tiny ship dots the horizon. In a second or two it has receded back into darkness, and then mysteriously appears again, in another location. These fleeting glimpses of the lone ship become the ephemeral subject here, as the sighting itself is suddenly bestowed with the gift of narration.

Amy YoesOn exiting, the entrance to the alcove is momentarily blinding. At the top of the stairs sculptor Amy Yoes has redefined the composite structures that articulate a stairwell connecting east and west. "Up the down staircase" might be an appropriate title for this alcove, as one steep flight of stairs empties out into the railed staircase leading to the artist's accommodations on the second floor. While each artist in Site Specifics '07 has in some fashion addressed the physicality or the "is-ness" of the building, the work of Ms. Yoes functions to redress its architectural nature altogether by transforming the ceiling with fragments of decorative architectural motifs. Roman cornices, Byzantine eaves and classic moldings careen over and under the walls, dramatically lit from within. Painted in popping candy colors, decorative scalloped edges overlap one another while random structural elements shoot off at divergent angles. Corners, crevices, beams and gaps are articulated with swaths of bright pigment. The effect is dizzying and lighthearted.

Around the corner in Gallery #3, Sarah Oppenheimer has incised a hybrid window into the north face of CarriageHouse Arts. The resulting cavity acts as a gigantic keyhole that allows the viewer to peer through the wall to the brushy growth outside. Smooth and modern, the hollow connects one vertical cutaway in the foreground to an identical, but horizontal, cutaway recessed a few feet in the distance. The resulting shape that identifies the twisting vortex between the inner and outer openings is astonishing. Like an origami tunnel made of blonde wood, the curves and folds of this negative space are almost completely indecipherable. The hollow shape itself is so unfamiliar that it seems to mutate as one's eyes curve through its periphery in search of an internal logic. You can't take your eyes off of the interior form - it seems so deeply simple and so unknowable at the same time. It appears it could be the residue of some Godly act of cognitive mapping - like crop circles or a system of packaging space for a very specific but unspecified purpose.

Andrea LoefkeWhimsical and touched with innocence, Andrea Loefke transforms the neighboring Gallery #4 into a beachcomber land of Oz. A meandering path of high-alert red has been zig-zagged in loud paint across the gallery floor. Flanked on each side with brilliant orange hurricane-fencing, the pathways lead to a bright beach umbrella and picnic chairs in the center. Drops of plastic rain descend from inside the huge arch, falling into buckets and pretend puddles below. The effect is decadent and luxurious - a cross-section of Ms. Loefke's dream world and the functional passageway to the east side of the building. This purely fictional place, like a playful sensorium, is sweetly overwhelming. It exudes a comedic bravura that will make you smile.

Carol Shaw-SuttonFor Fran Siegel and Carol Shaw-Sutton, the processes involved in this first time collaboration resulted in a cacophony of spindled lines and intricate netting, translucent walls of sliced paper, slivery webs and atmospheric mobiles that deftly overwhelm Gallery #5. An acclaimed installation artist, Ms. Siegel's signature "wall dispersions" are in play here, as shards of vellum and scoops of mirror-finish mylar are strung across the gallery with nearly invisible monofilament. Gossamer and lithe, the installation is partly a convulsive, explosive drawing in three dimensions that hovers in mid-air. At the same time, Ms. Shaw-Sutton has fashioned an obsessively bundled cocoon of metal and copper filament that appears caught in the depths of this woven web, its structure bathed in a brilliant oval of gallery light. Suspended overhead, an intricate flower shape also hovers in the tangles that stretch across the gallery. The full effect is intoxicating and lavish, reminiscent of 19th century Symbolist and Romantic painters.

Johnston FosterFinally, ever subversive Johnston Foster has not failed to surprise. In Gallery #6, Mr. Foster has filled the ceiling with diving, swirling, variously exploding seagulls. The life size birds hurl themselves from one end of the gallery to the other, soaring over a huge, smoking lobster below. Yes, the lobster is smoking—it appears to be clenching a Marlboro with a very long ash poised at the tip like a top hat—its diminutive claw in possession of the gigantic cigarette. Mr. Foster's materials of choice include recycled materials such as discarded traffic cones and ordinary hardware items like duct tape, foam and PVC pipe. As raw materials, they are some of the very debris responsible for his bloated, choking seagulls, whose throats are scarred with remnants of latex balloons, plastic bags and construction waste. The absurdity of this installation is matched only by the brevity of his statement about our toxic environment—its hallucinatory atmosphere perhaps a symptom of poisoned air and water. Although Mr. Foster foregoes a distinct narrative, he joins the ranks of artists throughout the last century who have mined the ravages of industrialism to feed at the margins of this, our culture of excess.

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