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‘Square Footage’ exhibit challenges artists to respond to changing space

Jessica Cabe
jcabe@postindependent.com
Reina Katzenberger, not yet titled, newspaper
Colleen O’Neil / Post Independent |

If You go...

Who: Jay Phillips, Reina Katzenberger, Penelope Anne Greenwell, Wallace Graham, John Emerson and dancers of CoMotion: a conscious movement project

What: ‘Square Footage: Art in Redux’

When: Opening reception 6-8 p.m. on Friday; first response during Reduction 1 6-8 p.m. on First Friday, Sept. 4; final artist response during Reduction 2 and CoMotion performance 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17

Where: The Launchpad in Carbondale

How Much: Free

Usually, when you walk into an art gallery, the pieces you see hanging on the walls are deemed complete by the artist. The process of creating is over. The work is done.

But the latest exhibit at the Launchpad is challenging artists to change their work in some way as a response to reduced space. In “Square Footage: Art in Redux,” artists and dancers are given up to 16-feet-by-16-feet of space in which to install or perform their art. Two weeks later, that space is halved, and they’ll need to adjust their work to fit. Two weeks later, it’s halved again.

It’s an interesting concept that could hearken back to the ship of Theseus, a thought experiment that asks: If all the parts of an object are replaced over time (in this case, a ship), is it still the same object? At what point is it not?

But instead of replacing parts, artists in “Square Footage” are taking parts and pieces away, rearranging installations or finding other ways to adjust to the space. A fascinating question arises: Do these changes result in a new piece of work? Or can each phase be called by the same name? What do the answers to those questions say about the nature of contemporary art?

Deb Colley, artistic director of CoMotion and a dancer in “Square Footage,” came up with the reduced space concept a couple of years ago after witnessing Ten Tiny Dances, a site-specific dance project in Portland that has dancers performing in confined spaces.

“I liked the idea of having a restricted space to work in,” Colley said. “And I partly thought it would be so fascinating because I didn’t know how artists would respond. How much of the work would be recognizable from beginning to end? And I thought it would be really cool to do it with dance because that’s my realm of understanding.”

For the visual artists, Colley notes a movement in contemporary art that challenges the idea of a complete work.

“I want people to think about art as not a fixed, finished thing,” she said. “I see in contemporary art a movement of things not really being fixed, and there are no real rules. I mean, the principles of art are still there, but there are no rules that say this piece is finished, or this piece is static.”

The CoMotion dance performance will take place all at once during the final reduction on Sept. 17. The dancers have taken choreography from “Damages,” a piece they created with their last resident choreographer Patrick Mueller, and they will adjust it from 16-feet-by-16-feet to 8-by-8 to 4-by-4. The final stage will prove especially challenging, as four dancers will be performing at once.

“We’re really playing with that dynamic of challenging each other’s space and getting into each other’s face,” Colley said. They haven’t just shrunk their movements to fit; they’ve had to use some ingenuity to make adjustments to their increasing confinement.

Dance is one medium of many represented in the exhibit, and curator Laura Stover said her intention was to find as many different kinds of artists as possible to invite. The artists work with ceramics, metal, paint, found objects and more.

“We tried to focus on artists that work in a variety of different mediums,” Stover said. “Pretty much everyone said yes right away without much thought, so we got lucky. There’s quite a variety, and we’re definitely excited about it.”

There will also be a piece of performance art in the show by John Emerson, a newcomer to the valley who just finished up a residency at the Anderson Ranch. Emerson’s first performance will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

“I’m part of the space, basically,” Emerson said of his piece. “I will be the work that gets deconstructed. My body and me being there will be the part of the show that’s removed every other week — some part of me.”

This is not Emerson’s first performance art piece, but he said it will be one of the few performed live in front of people; generally, he’ll record a piece of performance art and project it later, he said.

“It’s not something I’m very comfortable with,” Emerson said. “So I just thought it might be a good thing for me to sort of bring into the gallery and remove the part of me that feels insecure about it.”

Colley said she hopes the show challenges the artists, who are free to adjust their work in any way they choose, and she’s excited to see the results.

“Every show we do at CCAH has something special and unique about it, but this one is really different,” Colley said. “These artists are doing it for the sake of the challenge. And it’s a unique challenge; I think it’s rare to see an exhibit that’s shifting and changing.”


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