The essence of travel is glimpsed in a flash along the way to a new place or idea, soaking into the synapses before preconceptions tint and crowd the new impression. For an artist (or an engineer or a designer), it is also a matter of stretching and transforming materials to accompany the questing mind as it tries to grasp dynamic change.
SPACES' current SWAP (SPACES World Artist Program) resident, Israeli artist Efrat Klipshtien, is well-equipped to explore both real and imaginary places, having earned a B.A. in geography and psychology, and an M.S. in industrial design, followed by fine-art studies. Her installation and performance art uses everyday objects and materials, revisiting places, things and ideas as she builds analogous structures out of papier maché, paper clips or whatever else comes to hand.
As in much contemporary art, part of the content of her work is the cumulative way images are assembled. Additive and straightforward, techniques of this kind gather form rather than depict it and tend to head off in unexpected directions as they metastasize, paralleling the unpredictability and danger of the world at large. Over time, obsessive, tightly controlled actions yield an almost wild randomness, as in one of Klipshstien's drawings that begins with the simple outlines of what looks like a duck decoy, scattered widely over a large piece of paper. Each outline is echoed again and again; minor deviations from the original occur, which are then repeated and exaggerated in layer upon layer of visual vibrations, spreading to join in an all-over abstract composition. The finished work looks like a detailed topographical map. A tendency to grasp the reins of content loosely is relaxed further by her use of loyal family members and friends to help with more labor-intensive accumulations. For a 2004 work titled "Handle With Care," 23 people labored over a period of two months. They hooked thousands of paper clips together in interlinking octagons and slung the finished 4.5-by-10 meter expanse from the Janko Dada Museum's ceiling in a series of peaks, like an airy metal sketch of mountains or circus tents.
Klipshtien and other contemporary installation artists — like New York's Diana Cooper whose complex exhibit at MOCA Cleveland in 2007 featured room-size mindscapes made of foam core and office scraps (and who also employed a small army of helpers) — suggest that the creative act is a generative field induced in materials by repetition, images and ideas rubbing together. Within those broad parameters, anything goes.
At SPACES, Klipshtien's "Red Winged Black Bird" is a landscape fantasy recreating a few basic natural forms using plaster, latex paint and aluminum foil. Six hollow, black-painted plaster cones, chunky and looking like loosely knitted caps, rise here and there from a charcoal-gray floor. Washing toward these stylized mountains, hundreds of interlocking, braided lengths of aluminum foil cascade down from the ceiling across the gallery. Like a waterfall or an enchanted net, the sweep of crinkled silver is the froth of wonder right at its edge, as it scatters and soaks into more ordinary things.
Around the corner, where SPACES' rear windows are hidden by sections of drywall, rise three pale, knobby plaster columns four or five inches thick. They resemble bamboo maybe, or a cactus-like plant from another planet. Several small sprigs of smooth red-orange glass sprout near the top, while others seem to wriggle tadpole-like on the floor; perhaps they aren't plants after all. The light is dim, as if from an alien sun. We aren't in Kansas anymore or, for that matter, Ohio or Israel. We're nowhere, intruding in the fictional space of a work of art, sidling around tentacles of aluminum foil with black cones for company. On two adjacent walls, four only slightly more conventional works outline delicate fern-cactus forms spreading in elegant tangles, scratched through a green metallic surface with a mat knife to an underlayer of white paper. These large "drawings" resemble mid-19th-century photographic experiments and add a graceful note to the installation, like botanical illustrations included in an exobiological diorama. Klipshtien says the name of the strange place she has made is like four words in a short poem — "red winged black bird." The familiar North American species isn't present here, only the primal contrast of red and black, the thought of flight and the ghost of a bird, as small, shining colors bloom in a desert of effort and time.
Klipshtien's installation is the high point of her nine-week residency and —though exhibited as a separate work — reflects thematic concerns explored in other ways by the eight artists in SPACES' current show Internal Compasses, which also opened last Friday. For instance, Virginia-based duo Derek Coté and Nicole Baumann, in their installation "Starchitecture and the Bean Stalk," build and photograph models of well-known art-world architectural spaces like the Whitney Museum and the Rothko Chapel, posing questions about the realities of artificial things as they comment on contemporary interactions of art, design and use.