Art Review

Ghosts in the Machines

Bell Gallery director Maya Allison’s swan song


December in the art world is not exactly busy. Many galleries close for the winter; however, not every art space in Providence will be idle this month. Over on College Hill, the show Nostalgia Machines (November 18-February 19) presents the work of five artists from near and far who create various levels of kinetic sculptural works that reference a hint of sentiment. This is also the final exhibition former gallery director Maya Allison curated for Bell. In a statement about this show, Allison says, “Rather than the longing for specific lost moments of time, these artworks develop aesthetic tropes associated with nostalgia.” It is not easy to curate an exhibition with artists in various countries and cities. With that in mind, it is a real treat to see the high caliber of work Allison has brought to Rhode Island. She certainly did not intend to leave us without making a lasting impression.

The exhibition histories for many of these artists are extremely impressive. The artist Zimoun, for instance, has been in shows in Paris, Zurich, Basel and Rio de Janeiro this year alone. To see Providence on this list should make any East Sider want to come out and see what is happening. Zimoun’s minimalist style may seem unexciting at first, but becomes visually stimulating as the elements dance when the installed motor starts running. In the work for this show, Zimoun creates a sound reminiscent of rain through small motors.

Some of the other works may not be as aesthetically beautiful, but they are appealing in a different way. The work of RISD MFA alumna Meridith Pingree is less about visual appeal and more about creating a visceral experience with the viewer. At first glance, it looks abstract, but the key is the experience once it starts moving. Pingree is looking to capture the viewer on more than one level in the viewing experience. This will be the first time Pingree will show in Providence after her graduate thesis exhibition in 2003.

Experience over physical beauty is also the case for Gregory Witt, who has created a small robot for the show. While the robot may not be beautiful, the work, entitled Packing Tape, mimics the noise of packing tape being pulled off the roll.

The work of Jasper Rigole will be unlike anything else in the show. This will be the first time the Belgian artist is showing his work on American soil. Providence is a great place to get a temperature read on a career crossing over the Atlantic, since there is such a large and varied demographic of art lovers here. The piece is a combination of technology, sentiment and film. Rigole hopes to remind us that our collective past consists of various narratives. He provokes us through image rather than noise, giving us a work with hundreds of silenced voices.

The last of the five is Jonathan Schipper. This will also be Schipper’s first show in Providence. His unique work was on display in the Pierogi Gallery booth at the Armory Show in New York this past spring. His piece in this show uses technology and machinery to replay the moment of a bottle breaking. Sometimes you forget the spider-like arms are there holding on to the various broken pieces, but then there are also times that the arms give the piece a more humane element, channeling regret as the broken glass goes from coming together and falling apart.

As 2011 ends, we’re likely to spend some time reflecting back on the past year, but we still may feel that we cannot waste much time when there are holiday plans to make and presents to buy. An exhibition like Nostalgic Machines is worth taking a few moments to explore, because if there is one thing that Allison always understood, it is that you cannot spoon-feed a viewer. Many will be able to relate to the concepts in this show as the artists give us hints, but still allow us to come to our own conclusions.


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‎(note correction: Maya Allison was not director of the Bell Gallery. She was curator, Jo-Ann Conklin remains director)

Thursday, December 1, 2011