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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Energetic Art Exhibit Allows Students To Play

Author: Suzanne Mozes

There were no twinkling white lights trying to transform Johnson's brute grayness into a magical wonderland. There were no bowtied attendants serving wine. There were no beautiful gowns and high heels gliding across the floor. And there was certainly not a quartet dignifying the event with classical music.

Instead, Johnson Gallery evolved into a playground for Middlebury students on Friday night. They dangled from third floor balconies, danced with art to The Real's wordless beats and sprawled out in the open atrium for last weekend's artistic and social experience of a gallery opening.

Laura Libby '02 worked conceptually with the idea of seclusion in her exhibition "Anonymity." Libby's work seemed like it had been painted behind a glass shield. Isolated even from the artist, the blurred paintings pull away from close inspection behind this invisible wall. While this boundary remained invisible, its presence definitely impacts the viewers' interaction with the artwork itself.

Her series of "Untitled" oil paintings on wood depicted females "who get to be anonymous, who get to be alone."

Sometimes the deliberately obscured faces became too disconcerting and detract from the rest of the piece. While Libby's indistinct, vague style does not always expand her artwork, her desired effect succeeds in "Untitled (Spring Dress)." Taking on a movement and life of their own, the patterns in the flowing dress pushed the painting beyond the transparent fence dividing it from the audience.

In this series, Libby experimented with various frames that always accentuate the artwork. For instance, she employs steel strips on two sides of "Untitled (New York)." While eliminating the organic nature of the wood she is painting on, Libby also highlights the industrial undertones of the location. The theme of anonymity continued in "Secret," an oil painting on canvas. In this case, tree branches in the foreground restrained the audience from entering into the scene beyond.

The foreground of autumnal colors, dominating most of the painting's area, is juxtaposed against the light pastels of spring flowers blooming in a garden along the left side. The tree branches conceal this scene of coexisting seasons.

In contrast to Libby's oil paintings, senior Laurie Burgdorff's collection "Living Water" was comprised solely of watercolors. While painting "Salted Sun," Burgdorff's paint dripped down her paper. While most artists would throw the painting away, infuriated by this unexpected incident, Burgdorff decided not to fight the force of gravity and instead go with the flow of the tinted water. This painting, providing the kicking-off point for the rest of "Living Water," uses multicolor highlights and rough edged lighting to shape the image of a rowing man.

Even though the colors did not remain consistent within a single color family, the faded character of watercolor as a medium prevented a rainbow effect and instead carved out the essence of the subject. As Burgdorff "let the paint go where it wants to go and let the paint live," her subsequent work spiraled into abstraction. Windows in the architectural scene from "Italian Rain" spilled forth purples and reds and greens into fishermen's boats below. Blues swirled and tumbled unpretentiously off the page in "Swimming in Wild." This specific piece represented the show's intrinsic flow of energy and encompasses the natural sincerity surrounding her work.

"Universe" revealed seven planets suspended in a two-dimensional grid pattern of bright colors reminiscent of the skeletal foundation for a pastel plaid. The energy behind Burgdorff's work emanated from the collection due to the spontaneity of the artist. Instead of driving her work in one direction, she allowed her work to drag her down the route it wanted to pursue.

Dani Golden '02 translated her obsession with nature and movement into her exhibit of "Outside In." She commented, "Movement is natural, inside our bodies and outside, on Nature's skin. So instead of fighting this instinctive need for motion and fresh air, I decided to run, hike, climb, walk and jump around the Trail Around Middlebury for my thesis." Using textual, studio and audio art, Golden transformed her experiences and reactions into a creative, organic process.

In "Reflective Wilderness," an installation, Golden created a wooden cave strewn with grass, film, an ice skate, mirrors and metal among many other random materials. Various covered lighting gels covered shapes cut into the sides of the tunnel with lights shining inward while a tape of Golden's voice played in the background. Needless to say, "Reflective Wilderness" provided a very unique experience that spawned diverse reactions from viewers, as did the rest of Golden's show. Tree branches hung from the ceiling with tags pleading, "Jiggle me. Please." An untitled skeleton made of wood, wire and metal hung from a metal frame. Ready to sprint in a running stance, the crude skeleton swayed in its frame.

However, "The Tunnel" provided the most recreation for the opening. This piece represented Golden's collection, most likely unintentionally. Crawling into the wooden structure held together at each end by monstrous tires, students would lay in the interior, overstuffed with padding and a wide array of fabrics, and be rolled up and down the gallery.

As the night progressed, students began climbing atop "the tunnel," trying to balance while dancing on this mobile unit. The audience experienced the piece inside out, just as the title of the show suggests. Golden's exhibit demands an interactive familiarity with her work that inspires the same interaction with the natural environment.

Where as past art openings in Johnson encompassed students' artwork under a single title, each of the three art majors this past weekend titled her own show. This slight deviation from the norm introduced the immense differentiation from other art openings. Yet the distinct work of the individual artists undoubtedly fulfilled each of their titled goals.