Balcony show reveals art of transformation
By Timothy Dyke
Special to The Advertiser
By Timothy Dyke
Art can be magical, but it isn't magic. Magicians fool audiences into seeing what cannot exist. Artists show viewers what existence can be. Magic deceives. Art reveals. Magicians create illusion while the best artists find truth.
For those inclined to think philosophically, it may be useful to consider how finding is as essential to artistic process as creating or making. The Balcony Gallery in Kailua jump-starts such conversation by offering "Found," an exhibition of work by Gaye Chan, Jodi Endicott, Alicia Francis, Marcia Morse, Koi Ozu, san shoppell with Margot Sharff, and Joshua Tollefson. Each artist interprets the word "found" in a different way, and part of the fun of this exhibition is to speculate as to how every object plays off of the show's central and unifying conceit.
There is, of course, an established notion of "found art." When Marcel Duchamp put a urinal in a gallery and called it "Fountain," he was placing an ordinary object into an artistic context. Think also of Andy Warhol's soup cans and Brillo boxes. Found art, as it is traditionally defined, asks viewers to think about the difference between that which we see every day and that which we place on pedestals.
None of the work in the Balcony Gallery adheres to this strict definition. When objects found in nature or in the storage room appear on display in this show, they have been fashioned and retooled by the technical hand of a skilled artisan. Rather than focusing on the way ordinary objects reflect our views about art, the work in "Found" displays how art involves itself with, if not magic, transformation and change.
Look at Koi Ozu's three untitled sculptures. Ozu creates waist-high towers by linking single objects together until they resemble something at once familiar and imagined. Using compact discs, pliers and brass stencils, Ozu allows the shapes and textures of his materials to dictate the construction of his forms. Pliers open and close, so when linked together, they look as if they are alive, climbing and eating and moving upward by design. Compact discs may have been manufactured to transmit sound, but as visual objects they are perfect circles, thin flying saucers that when painted appear whimsical and light. The construction made from brass stencils suggests the act of making or manufacturing. Stencils, compact discs and pliers all are tools used to create or to communicate. Ozu's work forces the viewer to think about how things can be made from things that make things.
Joshua Tollefson's series of intaglio prints concerns itself not so much with creation as with destruction. Not all of what we find leads to positive results. Tollefson offers six works, each printed red and framed in white, which represent what may happen when we find things on our bodies. Titles like "Lung," "Breast" and "Prostate" confront the viewer with the fact that finding can suggest invasion. Who, after all, wants to find anything on one's interior or exterior that wasn't there before? Tollefson is an artist of insinuation and mystery. One looks at his prints and sees shapes and lines referring to identifiable objects, and yet there are layers in his art that suggest there is always more to see. Tollefson must have been thinking about slides under microscopes when he created his small, square, blood-red work. To look into his art is to face what is found.
Art is distinguished from mere decoration because it not only shows what things look like, but it also suggests something about how people see. Margot Sharff writes text that appears in frames next to simple line drawings by san shoppell. Their collaboration tells stories, or pieces of stories, about objects found on beaches or along avenues. All objects could tell stories if they talked. Sharff and shoppell assure us that their objects do.
Imagine the stories told by the reams of paper filed away in our homes and work spaces. Gaye Chan, chair of the photography program at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, paints on top of actual inventory sheets to give life to what we might see every day as mundane or pedestrian. Chan's work illuminates by obfuscating. She makes clear that objects are symbols that convey meaning, but one can't exactly make sense of those symbols unless one enters the worlds where those objects are used.
In addition to the series of work on inventory sheets, the Balcony Gallery features two series of photographs by Chan. Ladders appear out of darkness and climb up into indeterminate space. Vaguely human forms insinuate themselves in fields of grass stalks. Dark corridors lead to fading light. All one sees is suggestion, yet suggestion is enough to understand that everything is something and nothing is everything. Art is the everyday moment where magic is found.
Timothy Dyke is a writer who teaches at Punahou School.
• Correction: An earlier version of this story listed incorrect hours for The Balcony Gallery.