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New Media Exploration

Show at USF spotlights four very different artists

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


In a mostly post-studio international art world, there is still a large market and great supply of formalistic, material driven work. While every artist must be aware of the physical concerns associated with their product and process (even if conceptual), certain artists just revel in the formal aspects of a material, and the intimate processes used to manipulate them. All four of the artists in the current University of Saint Francis exhibition, "New Media Exploration," which highlights emerging and established artists, use unconventional media and produce ethereal forms through sometimes mysterious or lost processes.

With dozens of art pieces among the four artists highlighted, "New Media Exploration" is a robust exhibition that continues USF's strong season this year. Justin Johnson, curator/gallery director, was drawn to Michael Dinges, Dennis Lee Mitchell, Brett Freund, and Alessandro Bavari for their current and historical work which uses line specifically, in transformative ways. While this focus on "line" may not seem obvious at first, upon further inspection, it becomes apparent that without a strong understanding of the formal aspects of line, none of the work presented would be possible.

Brett Freund is a curious ceramicist whose work has turned to an obsession with line via the vertices associated with crystalline patterns and forms. His vessels become thick and heavy while retaining a function (cup, bowl, etc). Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the home of Andy Warhol, Freund's work contains both high and low, and although is solely geometric, retains a pop cultural aesthetic of distinct (sometimes gaudy) color, and simple, repetitive, evocative form. His obsession with crystals takes itself to point of even growing them, by adding a borax solution to the exterior of his bowls, essentially turning them into symbiotic structures of art and science. In this approach, Freund retains references to high culture through gem collection and fine jewelry.

Johnson expertly surrounds Freunds crystalline, heavy forms by the airy, nearly non-existent forms of Dennis Lee Mitchell's gorgeous drawings made only with smoke. Drawing with smoke, or more appropriately "fumage", has been used by artists at least since the Surrealists in the early 20th century, to create incredibly light, even, velvety tones and abstract plumes of soot on fine paper. Wolfgang Paalen would use this method to begin the construction of his surreal landscapes, as the smoke would "automatically" produce forms on the paper or canvas he was working on. Mitchell's work, however, is an extension of the traditional uses of fumage, which produces more complex, regular shapes and lines. This work evokes both Asian landscape aesthetics, as well as stellar forms, and images which remind the viewer of the mathematical simulations used to describe aspects of physics like the microscopic interactions of particles. Mitchell has not only gained an expert grasp on the technique of fumage, but has also created a beautiful editor's eye, in which he pulls new images out of his abstractions by combining images which reference floral or corporal forms, some even mimicking medical images like x-ray images and MRIs.

From the Surrealist technique of Mitchell, the exhibition extends on to Alessandro Bavari, the Italian photographer and now animator, who takes the late 20th century return to Surrealism in many art forms and extends it into psychological terror. Bavari's older photographic work focused on the human form as an extension of the dying classical concepts in a post-modern world. The images depicted busts, broken sculptural figures, and were ultimately a rather dark view of the world, photoshopped to hell, to create a world that was more of a static purgatory. In his newest work, of which "New Media Exploration" is an American preview, Bavari turns his past work into a symphony of opposition, depicting both heaven and hell, and their eventual clashing. This short animation, "Metachaos" at approximately eight minutes, is an amazing display of what the world of animation has to offer in a fine art context.

"Metachaos" begins with an examination of this bi-polar world in which some float free form in a gravity-less geometric palace floating high above, in a constantly vibrating space of perfection, while the space below is a twitching, broiled landscape of ash, smoldering heaps of figures, and bleak landscape. As the animation continues, three figures from the hellish world end up disrupting the harmonics of the peaceful geometric space and send it crashing into thousands of pieces. At this point, it gets crazy. The entirety of the landscape becomes scattered, things begin to ooze a viscous magnetic oil, and a whole cast of somewhat ridiculous, grotesque begins gyrate aroun while being thrashed apart. Just as the viewer assumes the tides may turn back to the more composed world, it gets even weirder, as a horde of insect like beings rise from the depths, infect most of the remaining figures, and and they burst into larger creatures which continue to vacillate. At the end of the short, we see, literally all hell break loose as the last of the already "fallen" creatures run around terrified in what looks likes a swarm of locusts while the larger insects pick them off… and a final scene of the new world inundated in chaotic black sea.

And finally, Michael Dinges, the main artist of the exhibition, takes process and formal concerns to beautiful heights with his "Dead Laptops" and other pristine, white, consumer goods etched by hand and inked in the tradition of scrimshaw. Dinges' work is both captivating physically, and conceptually, as he describes his work through the confines of economics and development theory, citing capital functions, technological disruption, and anthropological concerns. His navigation of the globalized art market, and world in general creates timeless pieces which cut to the heart of many issues such as the responsibilities of the individual in a world of mass production, democratic votes, and rising populations.

Dinges' work provides the question, "Without art, how can we question our own intent?" In pieces like "Captain's Chair," an everyday patio chair, engraved with the American Eagle and phrases all across it includes words like "cavitation" and the phrase, "I am the end result of everything that came before me", poking at the modern American consumption pattern, the idea of unsustainable lifestyle, and the general modern spirit of feeling empty through abundance. While many of the ideas that Dinges works with are rather common among the art world and modern critics of the world, his unique method of production, and the care with which he took to craft his response push his practice and his art to new heights among this ever-present human dialogue of "Where did we come from, what are we, where do we going".

For More Information:
"New Media Exploration"
University of Saint Francis, Weatherhead Gallery

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