Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Alternative Space: Short takes

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Alternative Space: Short takes
Oct. 28, 2007.

I was unable to go through the Alternative Space on Saturday, Oct. 27, because I was in Boston visiting my son at college and protesting the war in Iraq and the coming war with Iran. But I spent the better part of five hours at the Alternative Space in the old Hamden Middle School on Sunday, Oct. 28. Overall, I would say that it all felt much more low-key and reserved than last year. Of course, that is a subjective impression. It seemed less expansive—there were parts of the school that were utilized last year that weren't this fall. I occasionally noticed the color banners identifying the media being displayed in particular rooms but didn't use them for way-finding.


Derek Leka was showing his acrylic paintings in a room on the first floor. Three of them were indicative of a new direction he is taking in his work.

"I started from liking Mondrian and his ideas with how to deal with space. And I liked Albers as far as color and light. It's blasphemy to call them boring but I wished Mondrian would use other colors and Albers would break out of his format," Leka told me. "So I combine them. And since it is the 21st century, it is the voice of those languages in a 21st century voice."

Where Leka had in the past generally confined himself within the constraints of straight-line geometric forms, his newer works chart an evolution into more organic forms.

"I've allowed myself to let it look like circuitry or organic," he said. A work like "Invariant Discordant Catastrophe" (see image) starts at the top with rectangular forms. But as the imagery moves down the painting it opens up first into a splaying of wires and cables and finally into free-form space. The progression of imagery within the painting reflects Leka's cautious approach to changing his style.

"I'm trying to make it my language and a new language. I'm still stretching into new areas but trying to stay within my language," explained Leka. "I always want them to look like they are by the same artist. I don't want to make something so simple that it looks like it's by a different artist or that I'm trying to change my style."

This was Leka's third CWOS. He wanted to show all work from this year "both for myself and the people who already know me. So people can know I'm working. And I want to see them all in one place to see how they communicate with each other and get feedback."

Some of the feedback he got surprised him. One of the "slow, simple" paintings, as he described it, was built of different shades of blue squares and rectangles. Leka felt it might be "boring." But many of his visitors, he said, told him they liked it the best.

"It's nice to get feedback. That's why this is great, of course," he said.


Marc Pypaert is an electron microscopist by trade. In an artist statement he had available, he wrote, "I have spent most of my career looking at cells through the lenses of a microscope and marveling at the beauty of life and creation." The photos he was showing were not taken through the electron microscope. Rather, Pypaert uses a 35-mm camera and a 55 mm macro lens to shoot objects very close up. This included the ripples left behind in beach sand at the water line, bubbles in mottled ice, the bottom of a cracked enamel basin and rusted metal—a mélange of congealing browns and pastel turquoise.

"The idea is that they are abstract. I try and make the images look like a painting," Pypaert told me. In the case of the basin, he saw something of a landscape. The grains of sand, shot very close up with a high resolution camera, look almost like pixels.

Like many of the photographers I have spoken with recently, Pypaert is moving, albeit reluctantly, from film to digital imaging. He had been using the darkroom at Yale but it is being closed. Taking film to be processed and scanned can be prohibitively expensive for a serious but non-professional photographer. His conclusion: "Why not just be controlling the digital process myself?"

He entered Open Studios for the first time in 2004. He had always had an interest in being an artist, he said, but couldn't afford to.

"[City-Wide Open Studios] is great for that reason because it allows everyone to get a shot," said Pypaert.

Suzan Shutan was showing "Fragmented Narratives," an installation that is still a work in progress. In a little dark room, she had hung wire and twine sculptures from the ceiling. Through the sculptures—held more or less in place by nearly invisible fishing wire—she projected a loop of short videos. The sequence included goldfish beneath the sun-reflected surface of a pool, a couple of ducks gliding over a pond surface, a young girl twirling in a dance, a ceiling fan spinning with a slow motion hum. A fan blew softly through the sculptures, which cast gently moving shadows on the projected video. The video included occasional narration, lines that Shutan took more or less at random, Dada-style, from novels she really likes.

As the ducks were swimming on the pond, the narrator (a female voice) says, "It's a secret between us and a secret that's being kept from us." Sounds like the varying takes on contemporary art (although in that case the word "and" should be replaced by "or.")

One visitor told Shutan, "I know the secret!" When Shutan inquired, "What's the secret?" the visitor replied, "I can't tell you!"

"It was the best comment I got," Shutan told me (now the secret is out). "My own audience keeping my secret from me."


Last year, Greg Garvey created an installation in the old Hamden Middle School music room using iMac computers left behind when the school was closed. This year Garvey was using iMacs again for a different installation, one that touched on the growing and intertwined fears of identity theft and virtual surveillance.

The four iMacs were labeled with bold declarations: two stated "Trust Me" while the others were emblazoned with "Go Ahead" or the more provocative "Make My Day." The set-up was in a first floor hallway. Like a carnival barker, Garvey accosted passersby: "Let me steal your identity;" "Step up and enter all your personal information." On the screens was a familiar display, a form with fields for the computer user to enter personal information: name, address, phone number. But there were also fields for Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number and PIN. At the bottom of the form there was a button ripe with double meaning. "Submit," it said.

There was a disclaimer at the bottom of each form that none of the information would actually be retained. In fact, Garvey told me that the "submit" button was actually a "clear form" button. Notwithstanding the disclaimers, he wasn't getting a lot of takers.

"There are those who are reluctant and if I press them hard enough, I find their reluctance was related to a real experience of identity theft," Garvey told me.

"I like the piece because in a way it's a one-liner but it's much more than that. It allows me to explore issues," said Garvey. "You can imagine how banal it would be if I made a painting with a screen like this. It shows the limitations of traditional media. There are ideas, even emotions, that can't be captured by other media.

"There are emerging dimensions of our human experience that require new ways to comment and subvert," Garvey said.


Jonathan Waters said that assembling his sculptural installation, which practically filled a room at Hamden Middle School, was "like wrestling an anaconda." Waters titled his work "Corrievrekin" after a whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland. ("My father," Waters said, "used to like the sound of that word.")

Waters used 2-inch orangeburg pipe, plywood and black gaffer's tape to create the spiraling sculpture. He built it in the room. It took about four or five hours, he said. He then spent a few days using the black tape to create lines on the walls that complemented the sculptural form.

"I had a really low budget on the piece. I had the pipe and had been thinking about what to do with it for a while," Waters said. He had been working with harder-edged forms, Waters said, but he was "starting to work with curvilinear elements." "Corrievrekin" was a way "to marry the two together." But the pipe was the snake Waters had to struggle with and tame to his vision. Tape and tie wraps were holding it together.

There was music accompanying the sculpture, composed by his friend Nelson Bogart specifically for the installation. Waters noted that in the beginning of the composition, which is orchestral in style although created digitally, there is the sound of (synthesized) bagpipes. The music, Waters said, "has eight repeating elements. It starts off kind of slow and as it goes up it builds in intensity." While I was there, one visitor told Waters the sculpture was the best thing he'd seen so far that day.

"It was great to have the opportunity to put this thing together," Waters told me.


This was the first Open Studios for Joseph Fucigna, the Weston, CT-based sculptor. One of the artists-in-residence for this year's Alternative Space, he chose the room he was in because it was a big, "relatively clean" space with good lighting. He set an old teacher's desk and chair off kilter in the middle of the room.

"I was walking around trying to find elements to put on it. It was hard," Fucigna said. Ultimately, he scavenged up an old test and a student I.D.

Fucigna is attracted to the use and transformation of industrial materials in his work. Not materials with a strong identity, like car bumpers, but rather the type of anonymous yet functional products that are part of the background noise of everyday existence. Viewers can respond to these works in diverse ways—explore the material, try and figure out what it is, appreciate the formal aesthetic aspects of the sculpture. His material of choice for his installation was black plastic deer netting.

His current work comes from the idea of water stains or mold, the notion that "something ominous is underneath or behind the wall or ceiling," Fucigna told me. And what better place to imagine such a likelihood than a shuttered old school built on a toxic waste site? Fucigna spent about 25 hours arranging the black deer netting in the room. It appears to spill out of the ceiling down onto the desk. It bubbles out of the desk drawers and trails way on the floor. As the afternoon sunlight played off the netting, Fucigna contemplated the possible interpretations.

"Is it billowing smoke or lava? Is it coming up or going down?" he mused.

"Each installation gives you different things to respond to. It helps my work grow. It helps you to think on your feet," Fucigna said. "And there's something quite wonderful about throwing it all out at the end of the day."


Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra were in high spirits when I stopped by their room. I had met Bigelow Becerra last year when I checked out her installation "Harvest: Hidin' from the Hair Cut, Amongst the Sweet Corn." The reason for the married couple's excitement was showing in the darkened room: clips from and a trailer for their short animated art/horror film Dear Beautiful.

Dear Beautiful won Moving Pictures Magazine's Spring 2007 Short Film Award Contest in the Animation category. The award scored the couple a paid trip to the Cannes Film Festival where the short was shown.

Becerra, who received his M.F.A. from Yale in 2001 and teaches at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, used still photography, hand drawings and animated painting to create the visually unique film. What he didn't use was video. The paintings are of areas around New Haven. The photographs are of friends playing the roles of the characters in the film.

"It's a combination of scanning in the actual paintings and drawings, using stop-motion photography and compiling all those in Photoshop and using Flash and Final Cut Pro to make it move," Roland Becerra explained. "It's painting outside the computer and painting inside the computer."

Bigelow Becerra described the short as "the calling card to get into competitions: 'We can do this and this is what it will look like.'" The ultimate aim is to parlay the short into a contract to make Dear Beautiful a feature film.

The short will be featured with the other Spring 2007 Short Film Contest winners on a DVD to be included in an upcoming issue of Moving Pictures Magazine.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home