Sculpture exhibit showcases altered spaces

Connie Zehr of Claremont, Calif., works on ?Tendencies? at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland. Her artwork is part of ?4 Artists / 4 Installations,? an exhibit that opened Friday and runs through April 24. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli

4 Artists / 4 Installations is at the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University in Ashland through April 24. Artists are Marlene Alt, Mineko Grimmer, Yuriko Yamaguchi and Connie Zehr. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. First Fridays.

ASHLAND ' Imagine an art whose grammar is sand, pebbles, antlers. An aesthetic of ice, bamboo, mysterious pods.

Such an art may seduce us into unleashing our imaginations and experiencing colors, textures, relationships, sound, even the passing of time, in fresh ways.

4 Artists / 4 Installations, a new exhibit at the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University, brings together earthy installation art by artists Marlene Alt, Mineko Grimmer, Yuriko Yamaguchi and Connie Zehr.

This is not art as object or art as commodity. You cannot hang this art on the wall (well, maybe the antlers, but you'd need a very big wall). You cannot buy it. The idea is to be in a room with it and react to it.
— Zehr creates unique environmental sculptures working in that most ephemeral of materials, sand.

I'm kind of an anomaly, she says with a laugh.

Zehr, who teaches at Claremont Graduate School in Southern California, calls her installation Tendencies. She grew up in Indiana and found herself fascinated with the desert when she moved to Southern California in the 1960s. She collects sand from Baja and elsewhere and pours it into little cones on flat, sandy plains she creates on gallery floors. A straight line runs through this one, contrasting with its otherwise organic roundness.

Yamaguchi, of Washington D.C.,teaches sculpture at George Washington University. She makes objects that look as if they come from nature but don't. For this creation, which she calls Web, she molded abaca (a cousin of the banana) fiber into little eggs or pods, each of which she encased in a little wire cage and wrapped in flax pulp. The resulting pods could be parts of wildflowers, ready to drop their seed.

Yamaguchi has strung up her pod creatures in a mesh of kinky black wire suspended in the air. The whole thing appears to hover in the middle of the room like a giant mushroom, or maybe an alien presence.

I like to sit inside, she says.

Alt's fascination with discarded natural objects shows in Shed. Alt, who teaches at SOU, has turned a large wall at the Schneider blue-violet. Out of the wall pour large conglomerations of antlers. Just antlers, cast in wax. Just cascades of white antlers pouring out of blueness.

She says in an artist's statement, One of the most important things about the antlers was that they had been impacted upon; they had been cast off, or shed.

Grimmer, a full-time artist from Los Angeles, combines ice, rock, water and bamboo and lets them interact in time. Growing up in cold northern Japan, she used to watch icicles melting and listen to the sounds the drops would make. Now she plays with those elements in sculptural arrangements that differ from one gallery to the next (she shows all over the world).

This time out, a frozen pyramid of ice in which tiny pebbles have been embedded hangs above a structure of stones, bamboo sticks and water. As the ice melts over five or six hours, pebbles drop randomly onto the stuff below, making different noises before finally kerplunking into a pool of water. Each day a new ice pyramid is hung.

When they are displayed inside buildings, artworks such as the ones in this show are usually called installation art. Curator Josine Ianco Starrels suggests thinking of each one as a space created by the artist to help the viewer have certain thoughts or feelings.

The line of such art goes back at least to Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau in Hanover, Germany, and works designed by members of the DeStijl (the style) movement that coalesced around Th?o Van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in the 1920s.

Starrels says the main difference between installations such as these and their forerunners is that today's installations are totally non-functional. They turn a space (Grimmer, Yamaguchi), a wall (Alt) or a floor (Zehr) into an environment in which the boundaries of sculpture are extended by the materials and their use.

This all is done to emphasize the artist's intent to alter the overall atmosphere of that space and turn it into an evocative experience, Starrels explains.

Alt has been at SOU, where she teaches sculpture and installation, since 1991. She traces her infatuation with natural forms to her childhood, when she says she got the idea objects were much more than what they at first appeared to be. She searches the landscape these days for objects that seem to resonate for her. Say, deer antlers.

She says Shed represents not simply the literal shedding of objects but a metaphorical pouring forth.

Grimmer's biggest inspirations come to her while she's working, she says. Interested in dynamic art, she found a natural corollary in water. As she explored ways of using water and sound in installations she found she quickly grew bored with sounds produced by machines.

You don't become bored by the sounds which appear outside of man's control even if you listen to them for hours, she says.

Yamaguchi says she wants her creations to work on the level of visual poems and at the same time suggest something universal. She says her creative process begins with an emotion and grows into perceptual explorations. No thinking. Shapes appear. Sometimes they surprise her.

Zehr theorizes she finds the earthen tones of the California desert so gripping because she grew up in green, green Indiana with its endless cornfields. Years ago when she would go camping in the California desert, she would buy pillow cases to fill with sand of different colors and textures. She still drives to the desert near Barstow for just the right shade of brown sand (but she will happily buy white and other colors from building supply outfits when it suits her purpose).

The viewer may see mountains and deserts in her sand creations, or galaxies pinwheeling through the depths of space, or even the structure of music.

It's about balance, she says. It's about a material, and the order of the material.

The mounds are little incidents. The line is an intrusion.

Whatever it says, it must say it by April 24. That's when the show ends.


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