The Parachute Project presents “Herr Seagull and His Global Dustbreath”
What is it that we sense lurking at the foundation of site-specific installations? It’s not just wood, plaster or paint. What we ultimately find that these artists (among others) work with is uncertainty.
This is a concept that has been found to trigger anxiety in those not dependent on, much less excited by, truly living in the moment. And like comedians on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” where the impromptu reigns supreme, some artists actually want to work at the edge of the unknown.
Joseph Campbell best expressed the work of these artists when he stated: “The insecure way is really the secure way.”
The concept was hatched in Belgium earlier this summer when Kati and Colin, who met during a 2006 residency, found themselves working in similar veins: social commentary juxtaposed with humor. Only this past June, when they were together for Colin’s show, did they decide to collaborate for the first time. They created a poster with a vague, absurd title for inspiration, then began working individually on drawings and paintings based on its concept. (“Herr” refers to Kati’s German birthplace and “Seagull” to Colin’s American heritage—you’re on your own for “Global Dustbreath.”)
The Parachute Project initially approached Kati and Colin in 2010 about doing a project in the States, however at that time, no space was available. But all quickly took flight last month when Parachute landed the Grand Avenue’s empty stores — which exist as indicators of global economic issues—and the artists agreed to add the space to their concept.
In the realm of the site-specific, artists generally build a concept around the uniqueness of a space and then blend with it objects/structures/images to create a larger statement. But Kati and Colin were only able to experience the space on August 8, shortly after Kati’s arrival in the States. And time, like their seagull, was already soaring by.
The artists found themselves face-to-face with the Mall’s several empty spaces juxtaposed with the Parachute Project’s mission and their initial concept, all of which was overshadowed by a deadline of less than two weeks. Added to the new uncertainty was the fact that Colin has created installations previously, but Kati has not.
The artists, seated in a cart placed squarely in front of their horse, were confident that this new project was, indeed, a challenge. Brainstorming quickly moved to problem solving, and then to art making that would integrate with and transform the spaces without losing their initial concept, but would hopefully include at least some of their initial work.
Nothing was etched in stone. Colin’s Milwaukee studio was instantly put to use for creating work that reflected the various sites within Grand Avenue, each containing leftover structures from previous tenants.
My arrival at the Mall was timed for August 15 in order to observe their collaborative effort at its most intense: halfway between the time the artists initially accessed the space and the scheduled opening. But at the last minute, the meeting was shifted to the studio where the artists were still working day and night, aiming for a revised installation date of Wednesday.
So goes the uncertainty of site-specific art. Yes, one definitely must have a stomach for it.
As I imagined it would at this juncture, the studio space reflected the energy of the creative process and the balance of intuitive/cognitive work that is part of both artists’ modus operandi. At this early (yet late) date, evidence was everywhere that the initial project ideas were converging with the concepts the Mall’s spaces brought to light.
Artwork of all sorts is sprawled everywhere. Inside the Walker’s Point studio, the walls were filled with paintings in various stages of completion, and closely set tables were piled high with large and small paintings, overlapped haphazardly alongside newly created store-like signs combining sarcasm with reality.
In another area, molds were forming objects with a humorous bite for placement in some of the glass cases. Outside, light box structures were being built to beam perhaps more words of cheeky wisdom.
As the different batches of work were shifted around for viewing, the artists talked about how the art would generally be integrated into places that are barren except for some shelves and cases. What they’re envisioning is based on their gut reaction to three of the seven available areas: a former jewelry store, a tie shop and large, gallery-like Lane Bryant retail space. Intentionally, the artists’ pieces are being impacted by the history gleaned from the remains within each skeletal space.
The fact that these chosen venues have lain dormant amidst other stores currently open for business will add yet another dimension to this increasingly complex statement, one that is still being hammered together.
As of this studio visit, three things are certain: the Seagull work isn’t finished, the opening is Friday, and time will not only fly by this week, but for the duration of its brief existence. And my calculation is that this installation, whether intentionally or not, will mirror the economic impact on stores in Milwaukee’s downtown Mall as a microcosm of our global culture: here today and gone tomorrow.
So plan to check out the Grand Avenue Mall and experience the shopping spaces of our consumer-based culture through Herr Seagull’s eyes. And, of course, you can even buy some art.
The Parachute Project’s third exhibition, Herr Seagull and His Global Dustbreath, opens Friday, August 19, 5-11 p.m. at the Grand Avenue Mall (Above T.J.Maxx), 275 West Wisconsin Avenue. For more information click here.