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Marissa Lehner's installation at 464 Gallery

A Marissa Lehner assemblage at 464 Gallery. (Photo by Marcus Wise.)


The period of mid August in Japan is called Obon, or spirit-worship time. It is an opportunity for people to reflect on their deceased family members and, through ancient rituals of light, venerate their passing. Two Haiku are presentiments of the season:

The stillness—

great rocks

take in Cicadas cries


Autumn Daze-

even the bees

are basking

In conjunction with the premiere issue of Spark magazine, published by Marcus Wise and featuring interviews with artists from the ELAB (Emerging Leaders in the Arts Buffalo) collective, founding member Marissa Lehner is exhibiting hand-worked mixed media in encaustic wax and natural materials accented with small LED (light emitting diodes) fixtures. In previous installations Lehner has worked with paper and twine, making hundreds of origami boxes out of found paper, tying them with twine, dipping the folded modules in hot bee’s wax, and thus creating translucent paper cubes that, dangling from the twine, seemed to transport the boxes. Like Japanese Shinto “soul ferries,” they evoked connective psychological tensions and intimate a similar lack of cynicism and irony found in that culture. A particularly memorable piece was installed within a large broken bed frame at this summer’s pivotal art event, ECHO art fair. Titled Loss of Gravity, it called up associations of early post-war assemblage artists using ordinary furniture to create a domestic frame of reference for feelings of weighted anxiety, isolation and mortality.

In her present gallery exhibition, Luminaries, Lehner creates hanging works and dioramas decidedly more uplifting in spirit but still conveying a fluid ambivalence between strength and fragility through her use of natural materials. These shamanistic nest orbs vacillate between the sinister and mysterious. The viewer is moved by the purity, elegance, and stability of artworks imitating nature with organic substance: leaves, twigs, thread and twine, rice paper, dried flowers and papier-mâché. What could easily be a ham-handed mashups, in Lehner’s practiced hands, become intuitive transformative vessels, intricate metaphysical chrysalis, cocoons of the extraterrestrial, each casting a saffron yellow glow when lit from within.

The addition of luminescence was ably assessed during opening night, as viewers were invited at dusk to the artist’s talk beneath the large tree in the side yard of the gallery. Suspended from overhead branches were numerous pendulous artworks, each illuminated by an interior light source giving off a faintly muted glow through the waxen exterior. After the talk, patrons stared up through tree limbs to the stars in the late evening gloaming in serene contemplation of Lehner’s singular creations.

The exhibit continues through September 5.

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