Monthly Archives: April 2012

For the Betterment of the Whole : John Howard’s An Aggregate

Aggregate: \a-gri-gət\ noun:

 A mass or body of units or parts somewhat loosely associated with one another -Merriam-Webster Dictionary

John Howard’s An Aggregate consists of two wooden sculptures displaying the power and potential of living together in a strong community. The wood structures reflect the communal actions of herring fish when in danger. The sculptures are created out of hundreds if not thousands of individual pieces of wood. When singled out, a lone piece of wood is weak and insignificant, but when united and formed together these weak pieces become a powerful body. The individual pieces now support each other, and their unification makes something beautiful that cannot be easily brought down. Howard’s intention with An Aggregate is to reveal how society today is lacking strength due to its emphasis on individualism rather than community. If society would mimic the actions of humble fish, it could create something strong and beautiful as well.

The larger sculpture is placed in the center of the gallery floor. It is a massive sphere that opens in the back with elegant curves. It is looming and powerful, displaying strength and grace. The open-ended sphere seems alive with the alignment of the pieces of wood that create its structure. It is reflecting a captured instant of the fish’s movement that it is modeled after. Howard’s composition can be compared to that of a photographer capturing an image of a dancer in the middle of a sweeping move. It displays the graceful lines and composure the fish have when moving together. The different kinds of wood harmonize,creating a lyrical movement that breaths life into the sculpture. It stands tall and proud, expanding its sides and taking up the right amount of space to show off its almost perfect spherical shape. It is dramatic and strong, looking as if it may continue working its way up and begin swimming through the air.

When one steps into the middle of the massive structure, one feels caught up in a protective embrace. The wood swirls around and up, surrounding the person who is in the middle. Viewers feel as if they are being swept up into the wave. They become part of the fluid movement.

The smaller sculpture has a similarly fluid movement. It is, however, more grounded than the larger piece, which looks so buoyant. Its larger base and triangular shape make it look constricted, especially when compared to the large piece, which is shameless in the amount of space it consumes.

This leads to an equally important aspect of the show. With only two pieces making up An Aggregate, a significant amount of the shows appeal relies on the use of the gallery space. Visitors coming in from the front door immediately see the smaller of the sculptures, and then they are exposed to a huge wooden bubble. The bubble, of course, is just the other side of the large sculpture, but the front of the piece is such a strong part of the show that perhaps it should not have been hidden from immediate sight. Introducing visitors to the back of the large structure makes the piece look closed-off. The front successfully uses the negative space surrounding the sculpture to create powerful movement, giving the sculpture life. The back view feels as if it is excluding the audience from what is inside. The smaller piece also feels awkwardly situated. The opening faces more towards the wall than toward the center of the gallery. Perhaps the show would have seemed more cohesive had the internal space of the sculptures been more successfully combined with the larger gallery space.

Howard’s sculptures are beautiful representations of the strength that lies in relying on one another. Howard sees potential for human community and uses An Aggregate to share the strength and beauty that would be possible if we were willing to be humble and sacrifice our desperate need for individualism in order to protect those around us.

Victoriana Dan

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Fish and Form: John Howard’s “An Aggregate”

By Leah Keller

Upon entering the SPAC Gallery, the visitor is immediately immersed in the strong scent of freshly chopped wood. John Howard’s An Aggregate may be constructed out of this freshly cut wood, but his two massive sculptures are far from the predictable wooden artwork that viewers might expect. The first of his installation pieces faces the entry and is easily visible as the viewer walks into the building. A large wooden wave constructed of hundreds of pieces of wood sits atop a platform of larger, staggered pieces of lumber. This wooden construction draws unsuspecting viewers in through its whimsical, swirling forms. The boards somehow appear to ascend, and the viewer can imagine them swirling up into the air. The wood is solid and still, but seemingly in motion.

Once the viewer walks up the steps and into the gallery space, the second of these sculptures, a large orb of the same materials, seems to jump out of the white-walled corner. This structure steals the show with its height, nearly touching the ceiling with the apex of its swirl. Although the visitor was first intrigued by the waist-high, wave-like structure, this massive sculpture provokes a stronger sense of child-like wonder and awe. The viewer is attracted to this chunky aggregation, which is surprisingly spherical considering that it is constructed out of flat wooden boards. This sculpture also rests on a wooden platform made of thick, raw planks that extend into the viewer’s walking space.

The orb is large enough for a full-grown person to stand inside. The viewer is likely to be compelled to step into this otherworldly, swirling object, but the invasive, jagged platform causes an unwelcoming effect. Instead, the visitor is led to the left side of the sphere by the diagonal slant of the swirl, which insistently points in a leftward direction. As the viewer walks around the backside of the piece, the individual boards become more evident, as they seem jut out from the unnatural curve that they have been forced into. The raw, fleshy tones of the wood remind the viewer of the organic materials used in making this transcendent form. Most of the wood is light in color with the exception of darker tan or brown boards appearing at random. As the viewer circles the sculpture and returns to the front, he realizes that the top of the swirl suspended in the air is mostly dark shades of brown, with some boards that are almost black. This gradient effect exaggerates the upward motion generated by the curvature and the strong diagonal lines of the sculpture.

At this point, the idea of standing inside the orb becomes more and more irresistible. The viewer may feel awkward stepping onto the platform and ducking under the orb’s extending arm, but the experience is well worth it. The center of the orb possesses a magical sense of weightlessness; the motion of the sculpture comes alive in the eye of the orb. The viewer will feel consumed by the swirling, swimming boards, and feel almost as if she is ascending into the air. This effect exemplifies Howard’s intentions in creating An Aggregate. The visitor will likely notice the guestbook and artist’s statement well after discovering both sculptures, but this information will complete the experience. Howard, inspired by the selflessness of herrings, aimed to produce an artwork that resembled the beauty found in the community and dependence of small fish living in schools.

Although the average viewer may not associate wooden boards with an animal, the shapes and movement created by the boards remarkably resemble the forms created by hundreds of small, swiftly swimming fish. These paradoxical structures effectively combine the weightlessness of floating with the solidity of wood. The dark, heavy platforms ground these otherwise ascending structures. However, positioning the sculptures on wooden bases is better than standing them on the even darker, solid cement floor. With more time, resources, and the use of a truly transformable gallery space, this show could be more effective, allowing its whimsicality to reach new heights. An Aggregate shows Howard’s pleasantly unconventional artistic style, as well as his promising potential as an artist.

Art and Healing: Leanne Draayer’s A Hurt Room

“How does one start to heal when words aren’t enough?” Leanne Draayer’s theme for her show The Hurt Room is summed up in her own question provided from the show’s explanation. The Hurt Room attempts to offer visitors an opportunity to understand the purpose and goal of Art Therapy. Instead of using words for communicating thoughts and feelings, like the common form of therapy, Art Therapy is creating a visual to communicate what the person is feeling. The Hurt Room is a visual interpretation of what Art Therapy is like while simultaneously presenting possible examples of what Art Therapy might look like for people who have gone through certain ordeals. It is a mixture of a gallery display and experience show. Each wall space is dedicated to an individual piece that is neatly hung, labeled and lit, but the carpet and centerpiece are more interactive.

Right at the first glance The Hurt Room is aesthetically intriguing and compelling. The massive paper carpet occupying the entire gallery floor immediately grips the eye, making it impossible to ignore. Even those students just passing by will become part of the show if only for the amount of time it takes to walk across the littered floor. The carpet consists of a chaotic collection of articles on psychology and therapy, pages of a daily schedule, journal entries, and repeated words written in large bold letters. These are familiar words that any viewer can relate to: lonely, hopeless, sad, lost, useless, abandoned, anxiety, anger. While observing the gallery the viewer is constantly walking on the paper carpet hearing it crackle or feeling it tear. Those who feel less familiar with the more extreme issues displayed on the walls such as “Abuse” or “Trauma” can read the familiar words below their feet and still have something to relate to.

At the center of the hectic mess is a hole in the carpet. Within this blank space is the piece aptly titled “Therapy”. It consists of two chairs facing each other at the eye of the storm with windows and a door surrounding and isolating them. The visitor may step off of the disordered paper floor to the clear space between the two chairs, but while in this space the pieces on the walls can only be seen by looking through the windows surrounding the chairs. This “therapy session” is what gives the viewer an idea of what it is like for therapy patients to observe the pain in their lives while being safely isolated from it.

The pieces on the walls are interpretations of different issues people going through therapy could have encountered in their lives. Each piece stands on its own symbolizing its respective title. “Addiction”, for example, displays a 3-D sculpture of a hand holding a bottle of beer. The piece is made from broken shards of other wine and beer bottles. The arm reaches out of the wall toward the center of the gallery. It’s sharp, dangerous edges twinkle in the light, effectively reminding the viewer of the danger that lies in getting too close. “Abuse” offers powerful images of colors resembling beaten flesh. The display looks like a Polaroid line-up offering undeniable evidence of the abuse that had taken place. The mixed shades of purple green and pink make the bruises look genuinely painful reminding the viewer of the familiar dull ache. Visitors may observe the reality communicated through the visual displays and attempt to understand the significance of the pain others go through.

On top of being a unique and creative display, the floor plays a crucial role in connecting the two aspects of the show. The interactive “Therapy” and observable gallery displays are joined through the paper carpet stretching across the floor to each wall, literally connecting the pieces to one another. It is a great, effective way of keeping the show, which has several different aspects to it, solidified. The separate hanging pieces are divided and individualized by being presented on individual walls but are not disconnected. No matter which piece the viewer is observing, the crinkling of the paper beneath their feet reminds them that the individual piece they are looking at is always connected to a whole.

The Hurt Room is well rounded and effective in achieving its goal. It is a beautiful way to assist people in understanding how important and helpful Art Therapy can be to those struggling with the process of healing from such difficult issues.

Victoriana Dan

Senior Studio Show Review: Leanne Draayer’s ‘The Hurt Room’

How does a person begin to heal “when words aren’t enough”? Exploring this question is Leanne Draayer’s purpose in her Senior Studio solo show, The Hurt Room. While there is pain in the vignettes dealing with the themes of abuse, abandonment, breakup, trauma, and addiction, there is also a prominent sense of beauty throughout the artist’s work. It is in this quiet, calming beauty that Draayer’s work becomes a piece of therapy itself.

Walking into the gallery at the Seattle Pacific Art Center, you cannot ignore the Hurt Room.  Blanketing the floor of the room are collaged textbook pages, to-do lists, graded papers, and stark white pieces of paper marked by single-word statements: “self-hate,” “lonely,” “lost.”

Initially, the visitor hesitates to step across the floor and enter the room. A ginger first-step eases anxiety and each proceeding step gains in assuredness and feels more stable.  This interaction with the floor is a blatant symbol of the emotions a person has coming into therapy.  Upon each visit, confidence grows and walking across the mess of anxiety laid across the floor becomes easier with practice.

When Draayer writes in her artist statement, “words aren’t enough” she is implying that art can express what is written on the floor in more complete, whole ways.  The separate artworks on the walls consist of paintings, photographs, sculpture, and prints that speak to a single word. The viewer is given six small abstract paintings lined up horizontally and labeled by the word abuse and its definition.  Amorphous orbs of deep violet, soft reds, and blue-green color are set against pale creamy skin-tone backgrounds. They are soft and sweet but also clearly images of wounds.  Some are more recently inflicted, raw in their blood red centers; others are old and muted into rotting bruises.

In the next vignette, three photographs of an abandoned building set in a field are fittingly labeled “abandoned.” It’s a metaphor done before but Draayer’s composition is notable for her emphasis on the soft light that radiates through the collapsing roof and exposed beams and floods the broken structure.

One of the least immediately cohesive pieces in the show is a painting labeled “breakup.” The simple scene depicts a woman with her back turned to the viewer walking away on a receding pathway, leaving a man sitting with his head in hands. Blue fills in the spaces below and above the figures placed along the diagonal path. Although the piece feels as though it lacks a level of brevity in its simplicity, it serves as a point of connection between an overall evocation of basic human emotion that Draayer is successful in identifying and asking her viewers to identify in themselves. The breakup piece is composed of mostly blue space and it is in this coloristic abstraction that the most powerful therapy is found.

In black and white ink, Draayer collages images of explosions, war, and United States military emblems on four wood panels. Across all four panels is a unifying image of an army helmet. In this work exploring trauma, the sometimes blurred media images convey the deep confusion and sadness of post-traumatic stress disorder. While most people visiting the show will have personal connections to the ideas of abuse, abandonment, and breakup, their inexperience with PTSD and the themes of this kind of hurt serve as a good reminder of the difficulty one has when trying to help or sympathize with others in distress.

Reaching out of the wall is a sculpture of an arm made out of broken glass whose hand is gripped around a glass bottle. This piece reveals the distance and isolation of addiction; an experience that, like PTSD, is complex and lends itself to general misunderstandings.

Away from the walls of pain and the lone place where the floor of anxiety does not lay a foundation, a space is made for calm and quiet relationship. This is the “therapy” installation piece comprised of two chairs, one hard and one cushioned, facing each other in a space enclosed by rough and chipped glass windows and an old door but still open to its surroundings. Standing in this space, you still see and acknowledge the painful issues unearthed on the walls and laid bare on the ground outside but your perspective begins to change. Now, you are in the middle of it all with the company of someone else (the second chair) and peace from this new sense of meditative beauty. The Hurt Room approaches human suffering methodically; breaking down complex issues into visually simple works of art that ultimately speak multitudes and leave needed room for self-reflection.