Inside The Snowglobe

vilinski-diasporaContemporary Souvenirs
The Gallery of Contemporary Art
Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT
January 23 - March 3, 2011

Outside, adopting the form of mountaintops, pyramidal mounds of snow in the parking lot and courtyard masked views and uncovered new perspectives. Inhaling, the sub-zero air crystalized inside my body; exhaling and imagining white sandy beaches, my breath left a trail of fog that looked like an aerial message advertising an Iceland getaway.

Inside, The Gallery of Contemporary Art's opening reception Contemporary Souvenirs, welcomed a warmer landscape complete with sun, meadow, sky, birds, and butterflies. Curated by Laura G. Einstein, the exhibition displays rare finds of everyday trashed objects and disposed materials that have been re-created into personal treasures from within the quintessence of two New York City and three Connecticut artists.

Scanning the gallery, I see a bright orange square sun rising against the back wall.  Walking closer, the puffy pillow is simultaneously dense and dainty. Made of two layers of orange plastic construction fencing, a steel frame, and a slice of green fencing sandwiched in between, Joseph Fucigna's Orange/Green/Orange sculpture is about form, color, and texture. His work is not narrative but rather about how he can manipulate material, to find fluidity in solids, and create a connection with the viewer through a textile feeling instead of sentimentality. His other abstract works of black deer netting adhered to wood boards suggest Africa, a bird's nest, and a sprouting bean seed and I conclude that they are all points of origin. Fucigna admits that when he first began creating these pieces years ago, he was not so much ecologically conscious as he was economically; price was a factor in the process.

June Ahrens' works, Passage and Flow, also follow Fucigna's principle of keep it simple.  Using minimal found materials collected over time, Ahrens’ sculptures, as do the others, speak of nature to me, but in a way that says, "Here I am. I have always been here."  Passage is a 26' long piece that descends from 9' to 2' in height. The scaled installation along a series of jutting walls gives the illusion of soft grassy green hills from the distance.  But again as I walk closer, the blades of grass are made from broken Perrier bottles glued to vertical strands of steel wire. I think of beaded curtains that hang in doorways in hot climates, allowing a breeze in while keeping mosquitoes out, a marriage of form and function. Flow is an approximately 8’ tall panel of assorted air conditioning fiberglass filters whose fibers have been teased to create billowy blue and white cumulous clouds. Retaining the materials’ original color, both Ahrens and Fucigna alchemize the forms, but have done so in a way that makes you believe that these utilitarian objects intentionally exist as art supplies with the sole purpose of providing beauty.

Artist Constance Old preserves a sense of freedom by setting strict limits and allowing herself only to use objects that are found or given to her.  Sometimes, though rarely, she has to break the rule, but even then every part of product is used, down to the receipt. Old focuses on consumerism and how as an artist to document not only the culture of our time, but also in creating a systematic approach of sourcing the materials from which her works are made. For example, she notates the colors and days of the week of the New York Times plastic delivery bags. This level of cautious conscientiousness is in stark contrast to how most consumers buy blindly, unaware of their purchasing power. Mimicking the craft of rug-making, Old creates a matrix or grid into which strands of plastic bags, paper, nylon, or mesh are woven to produce intricate patterns to make a statement, as in Sea of Blue: Plastic Floats Forever. Rugs were first created as a practical solution to cover dirt floors and then developed into Persian and Oriental luxury goods make of fine silks and wool. Old converts the useless into useful but on the contrary of becoming a utilitarian object, her tapestries retain a fine art form.

Paul Villinski's works are swarming with autobiographical stories folded into histories and current events that again become part of our pasts.  In <i>Diaspora</i>, Villinski combines his past as a DJ and his passion for flying and hang gliding into a piece that moves and is frozen in time. Using vinyl records from his own personal collection of about 1,000 he collected over the years, Villinski sacrifices the composed song for the natural sound of birds chirping. Inspired by a trip to New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Villinski recalls rummaging through the ruins and finding blues and jazz records which to him represented the soul of the city. These materials had a previous life, which had then been transformed. Diaspora begins with a pile of albums stacked about 2 feet high and on top rests a turntable with a record from The Byrds. A wing begins to emerge from the center and along the wall; a flock begins to ascend from Marvin Gaye, The Pointer Sisters, Bob Dylan, The Cars, and many other artists. Carved from these vinyl records, the birds on the wall, when viewed from afar take on the form of a spinning semi-circle, with a dense concentration of birds closest to the turntable then migrating out from the source. Villinski's contemporary souvenir incorporates old songs that bring back memories.

Delicate white lace-like topographies hanging from white tree branches by Ula Einstein grace the walls. Made of Tyvek, a protective air barrier sheathed over a house before the final exterior finish is applied, Einstein decided to bring this invisible layer to the surface. Through a blade cutting process, she allows air to penetrate through slicing organic images of vines and puncturing abstract bubbles. A knife blade is an unforgiving tool, as each line remains, continuously flowing into the next mark. Einstein draws with fire, thread, and wire recalling that many times it is often from painful wounds that we learn our most valuable lessons. The Tyvek series remind me of excavated fossils and how we must excavate our past to reconstruct our future. - Michelina Docimo

Ms. Docimo is a certified sustainable building adviser and writer. Her focus is on sustainable architecture, art, and design. Her writings have appeared in ARTES, D'Art International, and other venues.