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Assembled Meanings

A group exhibition that extends from Artspace to Big Orbit

The group exhibition currently on view at Artspace Buffalo Gallery is compelling for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is an exceptional body of work. The second exhibition to be presented in this newest exhibition venue in Buffalo, it also represents an optimum use of this unique space. Lastly, the majority of the artists included have never shown in Buffalo; in fact, you are more likely to come across their work in New York (specifically in Chelsea), Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, or an international art fair.

The exhibition, which extends into Big Orbit Gallery, is the brainchild (and first curatorial effort) of 25-year-old Vermont native and Artspace resident Alex Young, who recently completed his MFA at the University at Buffalo. Artist-curated exhibitions are a special breed and they can often reflect the sensibility and/or conceptually leanings of the organizing artist. In this case, that is a good thing. The list of artists—whom Alex has come to know, either personally or through their work—reads as a roadmap of Alex’s relatively short career that includes a BFA at Savannah College of Art & Design in Georgia, semesters of study in France and New York and summer residency in North Adams, Massachusetts. A few of the artists included, such as painter Jacob Kassay and media artists Leah Rico and Arzu Ozkal-Telhan, also studied at UB and had relocated elsewhere to continue their careers.

The title of the exhibition, Comfort, Burn, is a dialogue fragment from an unfinished Shakespearean play. The two words, when paired, create dissonance, and aptly refer to the underpinning of much of the artworks that “introduce new layers of meaning and critique into that which is familiar and that which remains concealed, inimical to casual perusal.” These is a thoughtful, cerebral exhibition, intended to engage the viewer on many levels and (in some cases) through multiple senses.

The standouts of the exhibition are sculptural works at both sites. Paul Lloyd Sargent has constructed an artificial river in Big Orbit that flows from a ceiling suspended litter barrel through a variety of plastic objects such as sleds, bottles, buckets and a construction cone into an eight-foot backyard pool set up on the gallery floor. The pool is “landscaped” with other plastic detritus and outdoor children’s toys. The backdrop for this Rube Goldbergesque assemblage of material largely scavenged from Western New York is two large projected videos of the St. Lawrence River filmed through a camera bobbing above/below the water surface. The sound of the video and cascading water merge into an oddly mechanical melody, reinforcing the notion that Sargent’s river is constructed of the very objects (and by association the commercial enterprises) that threaten water environments. On the other side of the gallery are Aoife Collins’ deceptively simplistic constructions, two of which appear to be readily available silk flowers nestled in cute, plastic, animal-shaped planters. In reality, each flower is the result of meticulously unraveling and reassembling the silk fibers of a single flower to form a new flower. It’s an act that trumps artificiality by making something artificial even more artificial. A single horizontal thread (in actuality segments of threads tied at few-inch intervals) on one wall is so subtle that in can easily be missed even though it extends over 20 feet.

The Artspace exhibition begins with Zöe Charlton and Rick Delaney’s Cul de Sac—two scale models of suburban homes face each other and emanating iconic TV themes songs such as Green Acres. This Lilliputian evocation of the idealized American dream is echoed in their nearby wall hung work—a section of sod populated by lawn gnomes and ringed by a white picket fence. The fact that the gnomes are black in this work titled There Goes the Neighborhood calls to mind issues of suburban racism. Sarah Walko’s ironic Inevitable is another easily missed work, since it’s installed above a metal door and the piece intentionally mimics the shape and form of an exit sign with illuminated red letters in a white plastic mounted box. Kurt Von Voetsch’s self-referential installation was best seen the night of the opening when the artist (clad in a lamb costume) and slaughtered cows heads were part of the construction. Even so, the remnants of the performance—an armature festooned with drawings ranging from the pedestrian (air fresheners) to the phallic (sausages)—have their own voyeuristic appeal.

Paintings in the exhibition include Jacob Kassey’s alluring silver electroplated canvases that offer vague dances of reflected light and movement as you view them and Kyong Won Bae’s pattern-infused diptych, designed to be mounted in a corner. With nods to architectural motifs such as the Greek Key pattern, Bae’s work seems to blur the line between painting and sculpture. Avantika Bawa’s series of four sequential works titled Sit, Stack also draw inspiration from design history—in this case, the shape of Gerrit Rietveld’s famous “Zig-Zag” chair associated with the De Stijl movement. Bawa pairs white framed stylized schematic renderings of an imagined chair form with simple, white, “shelf-like” constructions. The result of this restrained aesthetic is highly poetic.

Throwing restraint to the winds, Richie Budd creates kinetic assemblages that are quite literally mesmerizing. Situated in a darkened gallery on the lower level, his two visually explosive conglomerate sculptures are composed of found objects that include but are not limited to light fixtures, strobe light, bubble machine, popcorn popper, CD player and hair dryer. Now imagine that all these elements are fully operational when the sculpture is “on.” It is spewing masses of bubbles (quickly filling the gallery), corn is popping, the lights are flashing, and the CD player has an aroma disc in it. Your delight in viewing this sight, smell and sound extravaganza is dutifully recorded by a video camera and replayed for you on a small monitor, both devices imbedded in the plastic orb encrusted, wall mounted construction. The DIY, cords exposed aesthetic, and cobbled together nature of these works is quirkily appealing and their “look at me” attitude is guaranteed to sustain your attention

Rounding out the exhibition is Alex Young’s work, which acts as a sort of rebus—a puzzle where you decode a message consisting of pictures representing syllables and words. For example, his sculptural installation titled Wisconsonian (everything gets lumped together) is composed of cans of shaving cream, stacked cases of beer, black plastic bags, and disposable foam coolers. Connecting those disparate objects suggests ritualized masculinity (with associative scents) and consumer disposability. Rhinelander beer with its buzz saw logo touting it as “Real Wisconsin Northwood’s Beer” has its own arcane history and the fact that the artist drove to Wisconsin and back to obtain this beer for this installation only adds to the obtuse nature and meaning of this piece.

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