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Studio Trolling

Amid/In WNY Series at Hallwalls

More honored in the breach than the observance. The most recent Western New York biennial art exhibit extravaganza was mounted five years ago, in 2010. And no next round in sight. To fill the gap, as it were, this year Hallwalls is putting on a series of exhibits—the first one just opened, four more scheduled through the year—on the biennial model. A team of curators visiting artists’ studios, picking what art by what artists to show. The current exhibit features works by a dozen or so artists. In a range from more or less traditional drawings—but untraditional formats—to one literally off-the-wall sculptural work, from personal to abstract, and whimsical to somewhat grim meditation on the world sociopolitical situation and prospects.

The most unusual item is probably Marc Tomko’s protracted-action timepiece mimicking the ultimate hourglass of the earth, the epochs and eons geological layering of sediments. The Tomko piece is called Studio Dust (a year’s worth), and it’s pretty much just that. Dust in the air settles in an open bottle, and studio space sweepings—large solids first picked out and discarded—are placed in a flour sifter and sifted in as well, so that the sequential layering over a year is a kind of geological process in a bottle. In addition, since the artist is allergic to dust, the quarantining of the dust in the bottle alleviates his allergy. Even helps, he says in a statement, neutralize a dust anxiety effect of the allergy.

The off-the-wall sculpture is a huge papier mâché and plaster and whitewash creation by Tommy Nguyen. A little like the Loch Ness monster, coiling into and out of the gallery walls. What is it? Maybe many things. As the artist explains, “a mammal…our extreme evolution…our humanness boiled down and reduced to our most necessary functions.” Does that help any?

The more or less traditional drawing is by Marie-Claire Bozant—a series of little chairs with humorous odd touches—a Bear Chair, draped with a bearskin or maybe bear costume, and a Dramamine Chair, with a porthole back looking out onto ocean waves—amid generous white space, and Emily Churco, a little in the vein of Roz Chast. In one work, concerns and observations about becoming an adult woman. One vignette, captioned “Decision making skills remain intact,” shows a woman flat on her back, like she’s been struck by lightning or the equivalent. “Just give me a sec,” she says.

Kurt Von Voetsch is one of a couple of artists in this show who were also in 2010 biennial. That time he did an installation of drawings and sculpture called The Cancer Series. He sounded like a victim. He’s still dealing with the issue, but now sounds more like a survivor. That’s good to see and hear. Messy stuff, however, messy art. Imagery of brains looking like intestines, and no attempt to make anything look pretty. As he explains in his statement, the Cancer Series “helped immensely to identify the villain and survive.” The survival rate for over-40 level-three brain cancer, he points out, is 19 percent. He’s 51. “Wow,” he says, “I’m still here.” The current work he calls The Soul Series. Hard to know for sure. Maybe this is what soul looks like.

The other artists in this show who were also in the biennial are Virocode, the artist team of Peter D’Auria and Andrea Mancuso. The biennial work was about sight. High-speed photos of instantaneous phenomena, like explosions. This work is more about sound, ostensibly at least. A series of sculptural works consisting of brass section musical instruments reconfigured into musically unlikely or impossible hybrids. One of the reconfigured horns from its bell projects a slide show of images on an adjacent wall.

Brian Milbrand has a video study of the chemical reaction of oil, vinegar, baking soda, and watercolors at microscopic scale, a spectacle that he says calls to mind forces in play in the creation of the universe. Kate Gaudy has several concrete and plastics studio work “leftovers,” she calls them. “Not pristine,” she says, but “luxurious in decay.” David Schirm has a scribble painting called Camping with Cy, painter Cy Twombley, I think. And one called My Holy Mountain, about the dichotomy, he says, of beauty—which he defines as sanity or the spiritual—and the insanity of war and environmental degradation. Peter Stephens has an adjustable-scale—to the available display space—sculpture called Elements, being various geometrical solids in elliptical array reference to cosmic orbits and sub-atomic. Jeff Vincent has two large-scale works, one on paper, one on canvas, consisting of a zillion references, allusions, in words and imagery, to a range of people and situations from Duns Scotus to Peyton Manning, but seemingly no center, no focal subject matter, for better or worse. And Martin Freeman an electronics apparatus that gives new meaning to the formulation sound bite.

And pretty much pure whimsy, Al Volo has a number of chotchkie little ceramic figures—squirrels, mice, birds—with little crocheted or similar fabric add-ons. Also a crocheted bell, with wooden clapper. He calls it Silence Bell.

The Hallwalls series is called Amid/In WNY. Further editions are scheduled for March, May, September, and November of this year The curatorial team for the series consists of artist Kyle Butler and John Massier and Rebecca Wing from Hallwalls. The current show runs until March 6.

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