Gallery of Contemporary Art to Exhibit Contemporary Souvenirs

Passage (2009) by June Ahrens

Passage (2009) by June Ahrens

News Story: January 1, 2011

Souvenirs are tokens of remembrance, mementoes that are cherished and saved. The works of art in Sacred Heart University's upcoming Gallery of Contemporary Art exhibit entitled "Contemporary Souvenirs" reference the modern world around us and give credence to the old adage that “one person's trash will be another's treasure.”  It is the artistic use and interpretation of the discarded materials from our modern world that provides the foundation for this fascinating exhibition, curated by Laura Einstein. This exhibit runs from January 23 - March 3, 2011, with an opening reception on Sunday, January 23, from 1:00-3:30pm with jazz provided by the Carol Sudhalter Duo.  A panel discussion will follow at 3:30pm.

Generally, not much attention is paid to the mundane every-day objects that are ubiquitous in our 2011 cultural footprint.  The ritual transformation of remnants—including air conditioning filters, record albums, construction site materials, deer netting, receipts and more— into works of art, tracks from the minutiae to the grandiose.
The works in this exhibition make us wonder if there is a ritual of collecting for the participating artists June Ahrens of New Canaan, CT, Ula Einstein of NYC, Joseph Fucigna of Wilton, CT, Constance Old of New Canaan, CT, and Paul Villinski of Long Island City, NY.  Perhaps the works commemorate the notion that human beings are ephemeral but what we manufacture, in the long run, might not be.  

June Ahrens is known largely for her installations.  Passage (2009), is a 26-foot long installation made of recycled beverage and vitamin bottles, stones, industrial glue and steel wire. The bottles are broken and repurposed to form a long sloping shape that, in this exhibition, winds along the tiered wall of the gallery. Ahrens’ Flow (2009) incorporates the wispy tendrils of fiberglass from cobalt blue air conditioning filters to create a strikingly vivid blue-framed wall piece.  The filaments of material emanate from the rectangular support providing a contemporary image that seems to reflect the work of Eva Hesse, the conceptual artist of the 60’s and 70’s, known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass and plastics. 

W(e)aring Her Tracks (2010) by Ula Einstein‌Swiss-born multi-disciplinary artist Ula Einstein offers her Tyvek® series Scales (2009), Detectable TRACES ‌(2009), W(e)aring Her Tracks (2010) and Currents (2010), that exemplify her desire to stretch everything beyond its original purpose.  Tyvek provides a lightweight, durable structure whose pliability provides her with an opportunity to appropriate a material meant originally to sheath houses in a protective cover. Her innovative, process-oriented work includes drawing with fire and blades to create layered, three-dimensional work that re-employs discarded and overlooked materials.  Einstein’s process is organic and transformative, and although    the technique is violent and destructive, she creates serene, meditative, light works of art.  Her use of synthetic material to create allusions to landscape and the body is an ongoing exploration of the physicality and immateriality that is vital to her work.

Orange/Green/Orange (2001) by Joe FucignaJoseph Fucigna is a mixed-media artist who creates abstract wall constructions using, for this exhibition, colored plastic fencing, and deer netting. Layers are folded, hung, and bunched together to create abstract forms that deal with issues of line, shape, texture and color.  In Orange/Green/Orange (2001), brilliant orange construction site netting is placed against dark green mesh, creating a bold and imposing wall sculpture.  Deep black deer netting is placed against a white ground in his Untitled (2008) series, perhaps suggesting the inkblot image of a Rorschach test or the simple cadences of Chinese calligraphy.  Fucigna creates freeform movement with synthetic industrial materials, transforming them into something new and unique.

Floats (2009) by Constance OldConstance Old captures the spirit of the 21st century by taking advantage of the excesses of the consumer economy. Choosing receipts and miscellaneous plastic items rather than scraps of cloth, she transforms the 18th century North American tradition of rug hooking into Sea of Blue: Plastic Floats Forever (2009) and Floats (2009), creating three-dimensional wall pieces out of found color. Obvious symbols of our consumer economy, any detritus that can be rendered into strands and any usable grid, becomes her source material. She experiments with innovative and pliable fibers and matrices to discover which materials she is able to hook and which existing grids she can use as substrates. Her work is both timeless and an index of our time.

Diaspora (2010) by Paul VillinskiIn Diaspora (2010) Paul Villinski is interested in the implied motion of the flutter of the wings of specific species of birds as he cuts and carves actual vintage record albums for this spectacularly large installation of 10-plus feet of birds emanating from a central core of record album covers. Of Idyll (2010), an installation piece that is made from flattened beer cans that Villinski transforms with tin snips, files and fingers, he states, “I take these “dead soldiers” – every one of them once raised to someone’s lips – and breathe new life into them, changing them into images that suggest the possibility of change itself. A kind of conceptual unity develops between materials, process and imagery. My practice in the studio mimics the act of transformation that butterflies symbolize everywhere, in all cultures.”  Whether avian or butterfly, Villinski is paying homage to these fanciful beings through common materials, creating evocative images that resonates with us as we look at our modern world.
These collected works unite past and present by giving new life and meaning to the chosen objects.  It is not only the clever tongue-in-cheek component of the appropriation of discarded items that draws our attention, but also their selection and transformation that is so compelling.  Each artist has created a unique palette drawing upon his or her own personal artistic history and background.

This exhibit continues the Gallery’s exploration of the relationship between conservation and artistic practice. It is always fascinating to see how, over a period of many years, artists have absorbed and adapted their art to reflect current societal concerns, often before we are generally aware of them, and incorporated those reactions into their work.

A special thank-you is extended to Raymond and Michelene Fung, owners of Image Design Group hair salon in New Canaan, CT, and Urban Hair & Co., in Fairfield, CT, for their generous support.

For more information on this upcoming exhibit, please contact Gallery of Contemporary Art Director Sophia Gevas at 203-365-7650 or via email at gevass@sacredheart.edu.