We had an idea of what awaited us as we entered Pieces, Parts, and Moving Things at Rant Gallery, but we weren't prepared to go from grumpy to smiling like a fool. Usually we enter a show, reflect upon the artwork and plop down some — hopefully meaningful — words to describe our experience. On this day we encountered the latest body of work by So Fun Studio, and it sparked so much joy we could hardly think about anything else.
You've probably seen artwork by So Fun Studio, a collaboration between Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, whether it was the massive interactive birthday card commissioned by the Cleveland Public Library to celebrate its 150th birthday or Guido's wonderful mural, "I Love You Very Much. I Love You Very Much, Also," on West 25th Street as you enter the westbound Shoreway.
"I've been a big fan of Erin's work. I love how positive, how genuinely optimistic it is," says Dan Miller, owner and curator of Rant Gallery. "And some of it is kind of tongue in cheek, but still fun with all the bright colors. John Paul and I have been friends forever, so they were some of the earliest artists I had approached to do a show here."
In the exhibition, there are gears and turning mechanisms reminiscent of children's playthings. The gallery looks like a pop-up book come to life. Some of the pieces are hand cut and some are created using a laser cutter. "This is two artists together, dancing." Miller points out. The two figures look like they're straight out of a coloring book. Both are in their underwear. Costello is wearing a backward hat and his tattoos are painted on the wooden figurine. Guido is wearing rainbow underpants. And the figures spin around and dance only if the viewer turns the crank that motivates the gears.
The idea is repeated in the series of five artworks titled, "I Love Dancing With You So Much." The feeling we get from the spinning and clacking is almost ASMR (audio sensory meridian response). "It's a lot of Erin's colors, but John Paul is figuring out how to make everything work," adds Miller.
In the main gallery space there are boxes made with natural wood that have Guido's signature colorful phrases. "Would You Please ..." is one of these constructions that begs the viewer turn the crank and complete the sentence. We landed on "Clean This Place Up," which reminded us to do our dishes later.
One very large wall piece in particular caught our eye. It looked like a relief sculpture until we took a closer look. "These are woodcut magnets on metal," Miller reveals. "It's really a gamble, but I love this work." In short, the viewer is invited to rearrange the magnets to create their own compositions and stories. It's a deeply conceptual piece with some incredible potential applications. This is art for everyone who was told "do not touch" when entering the high holy confines of any cultural institution.
Miller adds, "This is a doctor's office, a pediatrician's office, all day! Nobody will tell you, 'don't touch that.' The artists have taken an untouchable thing and they do stuff like this. It's very bold. It's getting the audience involved and it's conceptual art, as well as fun play stuff. I love this; things could be terrible, but there's still some positivity in here. The honesty of validating those feelings is really important."
The artists state that, "With everything going on in the world and the demands of everyday life, sometimes we forget how much creating and being silly, and not being so serious all the time can help to deal with stress and sadness. [So Fun Studio] aims to bring moments of joy, optimism, and a feeling that we are all in this together as participants engage with our (sometimes pointless) artworks." As per their statement, the exhibition is intended to foster a relationship between the art and all the visitors of the gallery.
Pieces, Parts, and Moving Things might be the most interactive analog exhibition we've encountered in Cleveland in some years. In a time when everything feels like a dumpster fire, Guido and Costello remind us to take time to play as they defiantly bring a joyful noise to world.