By Erin Crowell
At first glance, the ConTEXTure sculptures currently on display at the Dennos Museum Center look like a mess, thrown together by a five-year-old with way too much glue and freedom. They are convoluted works of art, colorful pieces held together by strands of wire, paint and other (sometimes unidentifiable) household objects.
Chaos, you could say.
But look closer and you will understand the amount of thought and work that went into each piece; how the web of strands seem to suspend, hold and balance each work. Every sculpture is accompanied by a poem, words that hold that same intricacy and consideration.
Sculptor Bill Allen and poet Fleda Brown combined their arts to create ConTEXTure: A Conversation Between Artists in Two Forms. Now on display through June 13 at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City, the exhibit is a marriage one medium giving voice to the other.
CHICKEN AND THE EGG
So which is created first, the sculpture or the poem? Well, to ask that question is like asking, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does it really matter?
Brown writes, not to explain the sculpture but to add the voice of the poet to its implications. Allen responds to a poem, envisioning what it says to him outside of language, as explained by the exhibit description.
So although each medium is a response to the other, we never really know which medium came first which serves as another way of provoking our thoughts.
Its also difficult to pinpoint where exactly Allen started on each sculpture. Unlike the seams of clothing, there is no way to identify a section. There is only a chaotic four-dimensional web, with lines going up, down, through and across. How he managed to maintain a four-dimensional shape during the construction is mind-boggling.
TRUE TO FORM
These strands that act as the skeleton of Allens sculptures isnt anything new.
If youre familiar with his early work, Bill Allen does life-like animal sculptures using the same strand technique, says Gene Jenneman, executive director of the museum. Its interesting to see the evolution of his work, moving into the abstract.
Jenneman visited Allens studio after several people approached him, encouraging him to see the collaboration between the two artists.
The museum has several pieces by Bill Allen in our collection, says curator Diana Bolander. We also did a solo exhibition of Bill Allens work in 1992. It was a pleasure to work with him again and to meet Fleda Brown and work with her.
Brown has also seen her art evolve, which is epitomized by the ConTEXTure exhibit.
I used to feel much more sense of where I was going with my poetry, which I dont do anymore, Brown states in a short 20-minute film that plays on-loop during museum hours.
The film is a conversation between Allen and Brown, explaining the process of creating the exhibit, which includes one-on-one interviews, readings by Brown and images of Allen working on some of his sculptures.
At first it was difficult, Allen says about his sculptures. I was trying to be descriptive, which I found out just wasnt going to work, so I talked to Fleda more. She told me, Think of the poem as a spark.
A MUSEUM FIRST
ConTEXTure is the first exhibit at the Dennos Museum Center which combines both visual art and written word.
I would say that visitors can expect to be surprised and engaged by the connections that they (as viewers) will draw between the sculpture and poems, says Bolander. The average time a museum visitor spends looking at a work of art is 30 seconds. For this show, more than 30 seconds is required to look at the work, read the poem and consider the poem and sculptures together.
The addition of poetry to sculpture makes for a whole different experience, adds Jenneman.
ConTEXTure: A Conversation Between Artists in Two Forms is open now through June 13 at the Dennos Museum Center, located on the main campus of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children. Visit them online at dennosmuseum.org.