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Newark USA

A fotojournal about LIVING in Newark USA, New Jersey's largest and most cultured city, by the author of the foto-essay website RESURGENCE CITY: Newark USA.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Solo(s) Back in Action

Longish post, about 2,200 words, with 19 fotos.

Solo(s) Project House, one of Newark's most active arts organizations, has returned to offering art exhibitions, after downtime for its summer residency program. Here's the (bulk of the) text of the email announcement of its present show.
As the summer comes to a close, Solo(s) Project House kicks off the fall with three new exhibitions displaying work produced at SPH during July and August.

Melissa Vandenberg (KY)
2013 Summer Residency Artist
PROJECT TITLE: Charm Offensive
September 7 – October 13

Charm Offensive explores power, fear and impermanence through the use of common patriotic goods like flags, stickers, quilts and other domicile media. The visual prompts are familiar; maps, mandalas, sharks, life-vests, snakes and gravestones. These cues are emblematic of my ongoing fascination with nationalism, ancestry and partisanship. The mundane is of central focus in an effort to keep object and subject related to life. The physical outcomes are two, three and four dimensional––a multidisciplinary approach that is both antagonistic and sentimental. Charm Offensive aims to be contradictory, filled with both satire and idealism, in a[n] effort to reflect our own experiences with mortality, authority and fear.

Robert Lach (NJ)
2013 Summer Residency Artist
PROJECT TITLE: Scavenged, Transported, Assembled
September 7 – October 13

Robert creates traveling environmental habitats inspired by the architecture of birds using discarded suitcases. These once precious objects are stripped, shredded, and reused to create nests and nest colonies. "With nature as my guide, I will experiment and explore with other found materials in search of balance and simplicity of form."

Jennifer Wroblewski (NJ)
PROJECT TITLE: (Ill) mandalas
September 7 – Jan 1, 2014

Re-imagining mark-making (drawing) as worship, the SPH lobby has become avenue for a site- and time- specific installation consisting of several mandalas drawn directly on the walls and floor, using charcoal and tape and potentially including found objects and/or fauna. The energy of the (ill) mandalas elevates the intentions of the artist and audience and allows for ease of meditation and the possibility of entering a trance state.

I don't speak art-ese, so, of those three descriptions, the only one I could make any sense of was Robert Lach's, in part because I have seen a show of his at Gallery Aferro in which he created artworks based on birds' nests.

Explanation of dreadlock work above.

You may notice that the word "mandala" appears 5 times in that description. Most people are not very familiar with that word, and even those who use it may be mispronouncing it. Here's the entry about it in the American Heritage Dictionary. (I could not simply lift the pronunciation keys below into this blog because they contain symbols that don't format right, but must transliterate the pronunciations into my Fanetik system.)
man.da.la (mún.da-la) n. Any of various ritualistic geometric designs symbolic of the universe, used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation.
That's right: an A is used to represent a short-U sound. You see again why I am a spelling reformer. Because the spelling of English is insane and gives people no guide to how things are to be said — which is the only purpose of alphabetic writing — most Americans (including Melissa Vandenberg) pronounce this word man.dól.a (with a schwa in the first syllable), maan.dól.a (with a short-A in the first syllable), or mon.dól.a (with a "broad"-A or short-O, the same sound, in the first syllable). In all cases, most people stress the second syllable, which the dictionary tells us is wrong. Dictionary.com also shows only that pronunciation as set forth by the American publisher Random House, but the British Collins English Dictionary shows two different pronunciations: máan.da.la and maan.dól.a.
The only mandalas I have noted in Newark heretofore were temporary sand works created by Tibetan monks in anticipation of the Dalai Lama's participation in the Newark Peace Education Summit. I showed fotos of that mandala here on May 17, 2011.

Before I set out for Solo(s), I was afraid I'd have to use my cellfone camera, because I've had insane problems with my dedicated (GE) digital camera. But I consulted the user's manual, and realized what the problem probably was: in pushing the camera into a pocket within my waist pouch, I inadvertently moved the mode-selector wheel on the top of the camera to an unfamiliar position. Once I adjusted that wheel to the right mode, everything was hunky-dory again. Silly me.
As I entered the exhibition, I paused briefly in the upper lobby to check out the mandalas by Jennifer Wroblewski. I have no idea what the "(Ill)" in her title "(Ill) Mandalas" is supposed to mean. "Having evil intentions"? "Sick" doesn't make sense, does it?

One of the drawn mandalas by Jennifer Wroblewski.

In the foto just above, I couldn't quite include the artwork in the background, with a mirrored area, but the main object is representative of her "mandalas".
The upper concourse (I think that's what Solo(s)' main exhibition space is called in the building directory in the main lobby) is up something like 6 or 8 steps from street level. There was a time, for many months after my knee surgeries, when I could tell you exactly how many steps there were, everywhere I went. I guess the fact that I no longer count steps indicates an improvement.
I proceeded into the main exhibition space, shared by Robert Lach (I believe his last name is pronounced just as it looks, like the similar word but with a T, "latch") and Melissa Ann Vandenberg. As I entered, Robert passed by going the other direction, and we nodded, in that we have met. He later caut up with me as I was taking pix of his works and said I looked familiar, but he couldn't quite place me. So I reintroduced myself by name and blog title, and said we had met at his nests show at Aferro in 2008. Then he seemed to remember.

He explained what he had done to create the nests created from suitcases. In the foto above, the artworks are modeled on swallows' nests. The foto below shows the other side of the supersized swallows' nest, which you would ordinarily not see. This is the kind of view you get in nature documentaries when the filmmaker alters the environment to get a critter's own view of things.

The material from which the nests are made is wood chipped or ground up from wooden suitcases. The exterior form of the suitcases provides the frame for the completed works. Robert remarked that it took a lot of work to convert the wood of the suitcases into the stuff of art. I observed that at least he could grind up wooden suitcases, whereas I didn't remember wooden suitcases, so was puzzled when I first saw the description of these works, because I was envisioning Samsonite luggage (metal and plastic). 'No Samsonite', he responded cheerfully.
In the foto below, the array of wooden crutches on the floor also follows a nest form, abstractified.

In this next, closeup view, I told Robert, the crutches seem to form a sunburst.

I mentioned that there were no rubber tips, and he said he had removed that part of the crutches for that "Crutch Wheel". But you can see a few of the central portions (albeit without their rubber tips) in this next work, which Robert called a house but I thought could as easily be a barn, with a gambrel roof.

I asked if the framed 2D works were his too, tho I was almost certain they were not. It's not advisable to assume. He confirmed that they were not his but Melissa Vandenberg's.

I asked Robert if he'd be willing to pose by his favorite work, and he graciously consented. He figured his favorite piece was this "Crutch Wheel". I took two pix, one with and one without flash. Here's the one without flash, which turned out better.

Robert went to look for Melissa Vandenberg for me and said she'd be in shortly, then went to talk to and pose for pictures for some other people. Fortuitously, Rebecca Jampol, principal of Solo(s), came up to say hello, and as Melissa passed by, intercepted her to make introductions.
We started to talk, but the din of the d.j.'s music was overpowering, so we had to seek refuge in the hallway. I told her I have in the past complained about the absurdly loud music in that small space, that we don't go to an art show for a (recorded-music) concert, and any music should be background only, allowing people to talk in the foreground. I hope Rebecca will fix this in the future.

Remaining fotos today are of Melissa Vandenberg's artworks. You probably could guess that, but I thought I'd make it plain.

In any case, Melissa is from Detroit but presently teaches art at a college in eastern Kentucky. We talked about the sad condition of Detroit. I mentioned that the first (and only) place I ever saw a thick (bulletproof) plexiglass partition and turntable between customers and counter staff was in a KFC in Downtown Detroit. She observed that Detroit's recent declaration of bankruptcy was the result of the progressive depopulation of the city after the auto industry, Detroit's only major industry, was decimated (my expansion here: U.S. automakers were decimated by foreign competition that the U.S. Government did NOT have to permit; it could have demanded that U.S. manufacturers meet Government quality standards, not allow foreign competitors to destroy U.S. companies as the way to improve car quality).

Melissa is Polish, tho "Vandenberg" is not. Married name? I said that I suppose she is familiar with Hamtramck (haam.tráa.mi), a Polish enclave surrounded by the City of Detroit. She was indeed. I had a friend, when I lived in New York, from Hamtramck.
Melissa is concerned about diversity in art, and is disappointed that there is so little black art in the institution at which she teaches. I think. Or did she say that within that college, diversity flourishes, but not in the larger society around it? I didn't record our conversation, tho I do carry a handheld, digital dictation machine into which we could both have spoken if I'd thought I would need the info we exchanged during that brief, informal conversation.

She then also graciously consented to pose by her favorite work, but had to think about which that was, making the comparison many artists make, of their various artworks to their children, and not having a favorite child. But every artist I ask does manage to choose a favorite. In Melissa's case, it was the group of joined lifejackets with pants/briefs on, above.

Melissa said that earlier that evening, she had taken that artwork out of the exhibit (it just lifts up in one piece from the supports) and took it outside, where people put on the various life vests, which formed them into a circle, and other people took fotos. I asked if she could send me a foto, but she said she was one of the people wearing the vests, so she did not herself have pictures but expected to receive some. She said that if I took one of her cards on offer at the entrance to the show, I could email a request for a foto, which I will do, when I alert her that this post is up.

Fanciful combination of a color-banded serpent, like a coral snake, and a rattlesnake spelling out a call for help.

I have added the fotos of Robert and Melissa to my online "Portraits" album in Google Picasa. The third artist, tho from NJ, Jennifer Wroblewski, was not present when I was there, or I'd have asked to fotograf her too.

I saw only a few of the usual art-show crowd. Maybe the rest are still in summer-vacation mode.
Altho the email notice said "Refreshments and afterparty provided by Hell's Kitchen Lounge", and I saw that a couple of people had plastic glasses of wine, there was not the usual setup of food and beverages on a rear wall. Where did they get wine?
The exhibitions by Robert Lach and Melissa Vandenberg are on view until October 13th. The lobby mandalas by Jennifer Wroblewski remain on view until January 1st (tho I rather doubt the gallery will be open on New Year's Day). Solo(s) is located at 972 Broad Street in Downtown Newark. It is free and open to the public, Wednesday-Friday from 12 noon-6pm.

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