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Far Sited
By David Brickman

Open(ed) Processes 3
The Teaching Gallery, Hudson Valley Community College, through Jan. 18

Open(ed) Spaces
Various sites, Hudson Valley Community College, through April 30

Art and engineering: study for Amphibia by MateriaLab.

In a tribute to the 50th ann-iversary of Hudson Valley Community College, the school’s administration made an unusual commitment to support a nine-artist installation called Open(ed) Spaces. The project placed 10 works of art at sites around campus, indoors and out, beginning this fall and continuing to next spring.

In conjunction with Open(ed) Spaces, a four-part series of exhibitions highlighting the artists included in Open(ed) Spaces was planned for the college’s Teaching Gallery, located in the Marvin Library. Open(ed) Processes 3, featuring the work of Anna Dyson and Karen Mirza, is the current installment in that series.

Teaching Gallery director Tara Fracalossi conceived and organized the Open(ed) Spaces and Open(ed) Processes initiative. She carefully explains in an essay accompanying the installations that there is a difference between work that is site-specific and work that is merely site-related: The former exists for the site chosen and, once removed, is in effect destroyed; the latter takes existing work and places it in a carefully chosen setting—a “site-sensitive” application.

Looked at as a whole, the college campus is in itself a site both fertile and challenging in which to install contemporary art. One could fairly assume that the educational community provides a ready and eager audience for the work—but it also provides a relatively sterile environment of institutional architecture and parking-lot-pocked grounds, far less conducive to siting than, say, a natural setting like the Storm King art park near Poughkeepsie.

This challenge was met head-on by the artists involved. Sculptors Chris Duncan, Jeanne Flanagan and Paul Mauren chose outdoor locations; painters James Cullinane and Christa Donner found conducive indoor locations, as did sculptor Edward Mayer and media artist Karen Mirza; and Anna Dyson and Thomas Lail took advantage of the relationship across boundaries by siting their works in connection to glass walls dividing inside from outside.

All succeed to varying degrees by engaging the viewer in an exchange with the space around the artwork. Cullinane’s mosaic-like painting on metal tags is so accurately suited to the long, overhead, horizontal space it fills that he has donated the piece to HVCC so it can stay there forever. Drawn from a historical source in the form of an instructional fitness manual out of the Spanish Fascist era, Cullinane’s witty, open-ended Jumpswitch-frieze is right at home conceptually as well, placed as it is in a media-intensive research room in the library.

Across the cubicles from Jumpswitch-frieze is Lail’s Pane Interrupt for Silent Fringes, a very large-scale painting on the study center’s windows with metal and plywood construction in the exterior space beyond them. Based on architectural floor plans for the library, Lail’s piece stretches and distorts them almost beyond recognition, and then translates them into three dimensions in a manner not intended by the designers. His intention seems to be to engage the viewer’s attention as to the building, its materials and spaces, and most of all to the forgotten space outside.

Edward Mayer, a professor at the University at Albany, has also created a piece that interacts with architecture, in this case with a rather fetching steel-and-glass construction called the Gunther Enrollment Services Center. A poet of modest materials, Mayer creates a dialogue between rolled tubular mesh-steel towers and the fabricated steel columns that support the building. His feather-light imitations of the bearing units form overlays of pattern that tease the eye, and rise up toward—but do not meet—the gracefully sloping ceiling of their atrium setting.

For logistical reasons involving enrollment, Mayer’s piece is scheduled to be removed soon—possibly as of this writing—but he will be re-represented in the last of the Open(ed) Processes exhibitions when it goes up on Jan. 29.

Donner and Dyson have sited their works in the same building as Mayer. A professor of architecture at RPI, Dyson, working within a collaborative known as Materialab, skirts the boundaries between art and engineering with her piece, Amphibia. Mounted inside a Lucite box along a stairwell window, Amphibia is an accordion-folded piece of colorless plastic about 3 feet square; eventually it will be released from its box and expanded to occupy greater and greater portions of the stairwell.

In a statement, Dyson explains that the piece “is part of a series of experimental investigations into notions of a flexible sustainability that is responsive to the increasingly nomadic and fleeting aspects of contemporary life.” By this I think she means to be exploring the concept of portable, expandable shelter, as with a tent, but employing modern materials and design. The part of the gallery show currently featuring Materialab’s project helps in this understanding by presenting computer drawings and diagrams as well as photographs of the piece in various configurations, with and without human figures. It is both conceptual and material, lofty and basic.

Donner has taken advantage of a pair of walls intersecting at an oblique angle to paint a mural that compares and contrasts the role of education in forming careers for women, specifically in science. A very deft master of comic-book style, Donner uses bright colors and simplified detail to tell a story anyone could understand—much like fresco painters in the Middle Ages who communicated in this way with the illiterate masses—and she shows how long a way career women have come in the 50-year history of HVCC.

Mirza’s installation of three overlapping cycles of projected images takes up a neglected piece of hallway near the college’s photography labs. It is a complex and elegant meditation on light and the act of seeing. Her two still images in the gallery are exquisite in their sharpness and simplicity; she also presents excerpts from numerous short films by means of a video setup in the gallery.

The remaining three artists, Mauren, Flanagan and Duncan all present sited outdoor sculptures. Mauren’s 1999 piece titled 22 Links is a re-creation in concrete of a section of enormous anchor chain from the Queen Mary. Its understated, mute presence attests to the enormity of that vessel. Duncan’s two pieces, Rooster and Eastern Shore were included in a recent solo exhibition at Union College (where he teaches) that was reviewed in this space. They are first-rate small monuments that shine in the setting he chose, among trees that mirror the sculptures’ colors and textures. Flanagan’s site-specific slate piece, Oozula, was also written about in this space during a recent two-person show in Albany that featured photographs of it. Lying close to the ground, last week it was nearly covered with snow, but slowly emerging—inevitably to be covered again and re-emerge as winter waxes and wanes. It occupies a grassy slope that, come spring, will surely be very inviting.

Altogether, Open(ed) Spaces is an ambitious, impressive project for little HVCC to have taken on. The region’s other more lavishly funded liberal-arts institutions should take note and be inspired.

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