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Scott Bye's Sculptures at the Castellani

Scott Bye's sculptures are at the Castellani Art Museum through May 22.

The Method to His Madness

Scott Bye’s sculptures feature a wonderful childlike imaginative quality, great sense of humor and serious comment on big reality questions such as about global warming, and energy, including human energy and the energy that powers the national and world economies. An exhibit of Bye’s works, called Method to My Madness, is currently at the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University.

What the artworks seem to point out—but from a kid’s perspective, which is to say, in all honesty, without the political necessity flim-flam—is the logical inconsistency of the notion of infinite economic growth, based on the idea of ever-increasing consumption of energy from ever-dwindling resources (the only infinite source of energy being the energy kids seem to have an infinite store of. Much as they have an infinite store of imagination).

Also, the kid’s perspective quality keeps the serious comment from ever sounding pompous or pretentious.

A key piece is an ingenious contrivance consisting of an old tricycle hooked up with a reel portion of a push lawnmower so that while riding your tricycle, at the same time you could be mowing the lawn. A great markedly kid’s idea—a grown-up who has ever wrestled a manual mower through field of four-inch-high crabgrass would probably never come up with it—about how to combine work and fun. Hey, you’re going to be wheeling around on your tricycle anyway, why not accomplish something in the process? And surprise and delight dad when he gets home from a tough day at the office.

Another piece combines wheelchair wheels, an old five-gallon gasoline can, and slightly mysterious but not completely incongruous in the context lit light bulb. About pre-Industrial Revolution muscle energy, first-stage IR fossil fuel-based energy, and second-stage IR electrical energy. But raising a variety of basic physical and environmental questions. Like just what is energy? How is it convertible from one form into another? And where does it come from? And particularly, with reference to the wheelchair parts, will it ever run out? Or not so much will it as when will it?

As to the lit light bulb mystery, that turns out to be an easy one. On second glance, you notice the piece plugs into a wall socket. But then how does that work, a kid is likely to wonder. Most grown-ups learn to stop wondering. You take it for granted.

The components are all pretty much found objects, so reuse/recycling is part of the environmental statement. But in addition, the works have a physical compactness aesthetic quality as well as a humanistic quality based on their human proportions and implied presence of a human operator (of the tricycle, of the wheelchair) and a human intelligence behind the mechanical invention in the one case, along with significant juxtaposition of component parts in the other.

A piece that is more extravagant than compact—displaying the artist in a baroque vein—consists of ceramic rhinoceros motivated by a carrot on a kind of pole out in front of him to pull a complicated apparatus that looks to be intended to shoot more carrots further to the fore. Some redundancy there, but logical efficiency doesn’t seem the point of this comic illustration of the already comic carrot-versus-stick work motivation cliché. The point being (possibly) about the carrot-on-a-pole idea as a brilliant fatuous idea for accomplishing work for free. Analogous to the idea that the work we accomplish using fossil and other natural resources is for free. Which we pretty much seem to think. Or at least act like we think.

The kind of Gatling gun device to shoot the carrots is powered from a couple of propane tanks in a shopping cart. The propane is delivered to the carrot gun via some flex electrical tubing culminating in a bass clarinet horn.

The printed flier on the exhibit mentions some of the artist’s predecessor artist influences, ranging from Marcel Duchamp to Richard Serra. It should also have mentioned Rube Goldberg.

More kid stuff in two lovely models of treehouses, each on a shopping cart base—mobile homes essentially—which may or may not be a great idea for a treehouse. The treehouse parts are of handsome and handsomely carpentered raw wood shingles. One treehouse has medieval castle elements, such as tall narrow loophole windows and a drawbridge extending out into mid-air (that could double as a walking plank in the event the play scenario turns piratical).

A piece not in the main exhibit area but in the men’s john, on the wall above the sink, consists of a tank vacuum cleaner and hose attached to an open red umbrella. It’s called “Global Warming.” I’m still trying to figure this one out. And I wonder if the women’s john has a duplicate. Or do the women get shortchanged again?

The Scott Bye exhibit continues through May 22. This is excellent work, worth the trip to Lewiston to see it. And while you’re there, don’t miss perusing Gerald Mead’s fine Public/Private exhibit of works from his collection, each work paired with a work by the same artist from the Castellani collection.

jack foran

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