Shoppell invites viewers to engage with creativity
By Timothy Dyke
Special to The Advertiser
By Timothy Dyke
Critics classify art to convey understanding. Category creates a kind of rhetorical code, and anyone familiar with the dialect knows what critics mean when they describe paintings as "pop art" or "minimalist" or "abstract expressionist."
The problem with classification is that it tends to explain more what the critic sees than what the artist has created. Monet, for example, painted natural objects in light, but viewers today see Impressionism before they see haystacks.
Go to The ARTS at Marks Garage conceptual-art doubleheader to see san shoppell's "running with scissors" exhibition, but don't go just to see work confined to the "conceptual art" classification. Visit her show so you can play with toys, draw on walls, eat candy and select patterns in frames to match the mood of the day.
To call art conceptual implies that creativity lies in the idea behind the art more than in the rendering, and it is true that each of shoppell's multimedia and interactive art pieces grow from remarkable notions. There is, for example, "I Am An Artist," the installation made of two dangling rolls of paper tape. One roll is full of stickers, each identical, one after the other, which read "I Am An Artist." The stickers on the other roll say "I Am A Work Of Art."
To view this work is to be forced into decision. Should you touch it? Which label suits you, and what will you do with the sticky paper once it's in your hands?
Other shoppell work implores you to yawn, to draw your shadow on the wall, or to rearrange blocks covered with photographic images of facial features. Each creation asks viewers to shape their own experiences as "running with scissors" redefines how one is supposed to behave in an art gallery.
"I want to take art off the pedestal," shoppell declares. "A lot of times kids will come in with their parents, and the parents will tell them not to touch. I'll say, 'No. It's OK.' "
While there is definitely an aspect of shoppell's work that is fun and childlike, there's more to her art than regression. As you enter her section of the gallery, you come upon a printer/copier/scanner installed next to a sign demanding that you "Empty Your Pockets." You can document what you carry. A notebook collects and reveals all that's been printed.
Some people react to work like this by saying "I could have done that." The artist may be making the same point: You did do this, and you did it because san shoppell told you to. In what other ways do Americans empty their pockets because they are told to? The art is simultaneously inclusive and intrusive; shoppell invites you in, and then forces you to wonder why you're interacting. The viewer changes the art, and the art may change the viewer.
Like "running with scissors," Vince Hazen's "The Transfigured Pedestrian" asks visitors to consider the relationship between artist, object and viewer. As his title suggests, Hazen transfigures pedestrian objects into artifacts of value, and then as pedestrians walk in front of his work, they, too, become transfigured.
Hazen creates a giant pineapple out of smashed fruit flies, and if you think you can imagine what this looks like, you are wrong. The black-and-white "Pineapple" captures attention from far away, and as viewers approach the image, they may imagine they're looking at an ornate lithograph. Even after you find out that each dot is a carefully placed, carefully squashed fruit fly, you may have to look again to make sure.
When critics describe the work of certain artists who could loosely be classified as Hazen's art-world peers — like Jeff Koons, who has floated basketballs in aquariums, or Andres Serrano, who infamously soaked a religious symbol in a vessel of urine — people react with disgust before they even look.
All of Hazen's work demands careful attention. After seeing "Venus of Dog Ticks," "Hawaiian Ants," and the mobile made of flying cockroaches, you will look again and again to make sure that what you see is really there. To gaze at Hazen's "Grass Seed Goddess No. 2," a beautifully delicate work assembled from stuff Hazen found in his socks, is to imagine Hazen literally picking through his dirty laundry.
"Slug" is art drawn by the slime of garden pests, and it's hard to decide which is more interesting, the picture you are looking at on the wall or the picture which forms in your head as you imagine Hazen in his garden herding slugs.
If you visit the galleries in The ARTS At Marks Garage this month, you will see how artists think when they think of how we see.
Timothy Dyke is a writer and teacher who works at Punahou School.