BCA Centre, Break it! Build it!
Burlington City Arts July 25 - September 13, 2014
When I arrived, the German artists' Björn Thülke's mechanical sculptures were still in the main gallery. I immediately fell in love with them. In spite of their cool aesthetic perfection, their sleekness was upset by a mysterious air of unknown functionality. The usual rules of causality had gone off-kilter. And there's nothing more visually addictive than a piece that seems simply beautiful and then whose conceptual logic dances out of reach. I haven't wanted to steal something so badly in years! I had to make do with snapping photos. We turned the gallery into a working studio for a week. It felt a bit like a mechanical sculpture version of a quilting bee...running around sharing tools, taking photos of the insides of each other's pieces, the thing that made it brilliant was that none of the other artists were completely "done". We all came stuffed to the gills with every tool and material we could think of. The week was full of the usual last-minute glitches and mechanical breakdowns, but also with opportunities to change the work. The exhibition itself was a collection of artists that had a rough-and-ready DIY process-driven edge to their practices. Speaking to the curator, DJ, he kept coming back to how much he hates that saying 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. During a conversation with a friend from Bogotá, we started musing about the kind of DIY super-sophisticated engineering savvy required in the organization of illegal smuggling operations. Submarines! Money! Staffing! All the machinations of war, civil war, guerrillas... What if there was a different direction for all that human cunning to flow? After all , it's just the flip-side of efficient functionality at its most basic. Its most static. Imagining this, I realized that in order to attempt a change of direction in any situation, whether from a place of need or privilege, you need an absurd pause: a form an illogical logic that manipulates the rules contained in the forms. Instead of showing my robot series, I purposely showed new pieces veering on the edge of deliberate goofiness: a torn up drawing, a seven-foot wooden jigsaw puzzle, the hanging kinetic piece built out of my studio scraps... The other artists were an amazing bunch of people. Nick and Keegan Kuvach had a fantastic absurdist sensibility. Keegan's pieces included a couch that began to vibrate and moan sensuously whenever a viewer took a seat. "Kids and Pets" was a plastic turtle fountain that spouted dog food out in the plaza during the vernissage... he has great videos of his pieces on his website. Christopher Abrams showed elegant drawing machines and a sculpture of asthmatically squealing cocktail umbrellas. Kirstin Rogers' pieces sprawled across mediums, chaotic clusters of wires coming out of the walls, little sound machines looking like crazy geiger counters, rich, crudely textured wall pieces containing text, motors electronics and sensors. The physical computing/light grid set up at the front of the gallery was already running when we arrived, so we didn't get to meet the whole team who worked on it, though we did get to talk to John Cohn. John showed me the phone app. interface his group designed, so that you could re-arrange the light sequence remotely. The curator made us feel like if we had a good reason for taking a pickaxe to his gallery walls, he might've considered it. Pretty inspired by the kind of energy that he, and assistant curator Ashley Landers, pour into the gallery. Their planning extended to making sure us artists had a place to sleep, dinners in our bellies, necessary tools, clean sheets, and last minute trips to the hardware store. I got to stay in an empty apartment on the lake shore, waking up disoriented every morning from the ferry tooting its horn on Champlain lake, rumbling train that shook my room, and loudest birds chirping I've ever encountered. We also had wonderful students from St. Michael's college volunteer to help us. The Burlington City Arts Centre seems to host dozens of programs, kid's programs in addition to the gallery's shows. There's a darkroom in the basement that seems to be in use. And, a wood-firing taking place over the weekend. I hadn't seen a wood firing in about a decade. It was so good to see the smoke billowing out of a portable kiln set up in a parking lot. Close by there's the Generator space, an unusual media/engineering/arts workshop that also seems connected to the Arts Centre. The day I left they were hosting the classic beginner's workshop using pairs of 555's and pots to make a sound console.