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Wednesday, August 25,2010

Two-by-two

Noah meets Santa (sort of) in an art show at Basement 414

by Mary C. Cusack

 


Basement 414 is perhaps Lansing’s least-known but most characteristic art space. The entrance is tricky to find, accessible only from the alley behind the Nuthouse Bar.


This repurposed warehouse, home to artists, bicycle enthusiasts and the occasional group of counter-culturists, now houses a menagerie. Literally figuratively — or figuratively literally. Or both.


Through Sept. 4, the space features two exhibits of artwork based on real or imagined animals. The Noah behind this brick ark is Lansing-area artist Janel Schultz. Schultz received a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing for a solo exhibit proposal, but she realized that she could provide audiences with more bang for the Council’s buck by organizing a concurrent exhibit in the space.


The group exhibit is called “Animalesque.” Schultz explains artists are “working conceptually with animals, how animals act, how animals are existing. Some artists are working with animals in representation."


Schultz describes her role as a coordinator rather than a curator. She contacted local artists and gave them the theme, and then waited to see what showed up on installation day.


Some things came in two-by-two, such as Mary Kopp’s “Myriad
Mothers,” a pair of stunning masks made from fully feathered turkey
wings, or paired fish paintings by Stephanie Palagyi and Erika Magers.
Together, these works create a fish and fowl feature.


Without
a doubt the star of the show is Steve Baibak’s piece “Mastodon
Vanitas.” The huge construction of a mastodon’s head attached to a giant
clock was inspired by the discovery of a real mastodon’s head in nearby
Portland in 2009.


In his statement, Baibak notes the poignancy of a discovery such as that: “They were right here but are now not here.”


To
add to the effect, the work was placed in front of a black-and-white
photo mural of the extinct Curved Dash Oldsmobile auto assembly line, a
remnant from the building’s earlier days.


“Mastodon,”
which heads to ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids in September, was
constructed from various large appliances, bringing to mind the
connection between elephant and appliance graveyards. The level of
detail and polishing touches, from the intricate teeth to the gorgeously
curved wooden tusks, should make this standout piece a real contender
at ArtPrize.


Schultz’s
“Unfathomable Reins” is an interactive work, complete with
motion-activated sound effects, is a large installation of a sleigh
being pulled by a herd of push-me, pull-you-type beasts of burden.


The
ambivalent nature of the creatures is compelling. They can be viewed as
quite docile, resting and waiting to undertake the next leg of their
journey. However, under dramatic lighting, with the sound effects
screeching and howling, they can be darkly intimidating, like an urban
version of the White Witch’s sleigh from “The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe.”


Schultz
invites the audience to sit in the sleigh and take the reins. Whether
one chooses the front row couch or the back row of Edith Bunker-style
grandma chairs, one cannot help relaxing and enjoying the scene,
especially when one realizes that the beast closest to the sleigh is, to
put it mildly, a stud.


A
combination of fun and fantasy, the freestanding sculpture is a
departure from Schultz’s past work. Her original idea was to create
wall-mounted three-dimensional pieces, but after studying the unique
space that is Basement 414, that plan changed.


“There’s
something about seeing the space, then you can suddenly imagine
something in that space,” Schultz explains. Drawing people in by having
the comfy chairs in the back of the room helps, especially when they
come with an interesting view.


’Animalesque’ and ’Unfathomable Reins’


Through Sept. 4. Basement 414, 414 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. 7 p.m.-midnight Wednesdays through Saturdays

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