Artists Reimagine and Transform ‘Stuff’ Into Art in New Exhibit

One of Susan Noyes's pieces

Some artists’ minds are just wired differently. Where we see old books, buttons or blades, they see new, beautiful things waiting to be made. Or as local gallery Curious Matter says, these artists have “aesthetic gifts (that) transcend any insubordination.”

Their upcoming exhibit “Aesthetic Insubordination,” opening Sunday, March 10, highlights the work of artists who transform their material — often items dismissed as “stuff” by the common observer — to create something meaningful and on a new level of aesthetic. Curator Travis Childers, a Fairfax, Va., mixed-media artist who has previously shown at Curious Matter, is one of these “alchemists,” as gallery directors Raymond Mingst and Arthur Bruso say. His previous work includes spheres made from ballpoint pen caps, faces lifted off newspapers with silly putty and placed in petri dishes as “Cultures,” and tree stumps made of pencils.

The new exhibit features five artists cut from the same cloth. Childers got the idea to assemble like-minded people for the show after seeing an older incarnation of the same attitude towards media at a museum in Washington, DC.

“The museum was dedicated to decorative arts and had large collections of traditional women’s crafts such as quilt making, hair jewelry and schoolgirl art (and) I saw a lot of the similarities in the way these works were produced compared to contemporary artists today,” says Childers. “These decorative art pieces used strange materials, were labor intensive, and also had narratives that reflected the life of the person who created it. I (looked) for artists who still referenced those ways of working, but came from a very contemporary mind set.”

Viewers will get to see such wonders as Jessica Braiterman’s “Aurora,” a tiny universe or star cluster of buttons and wire that can expand or contract at the artist’s will (seen being installed by the artist, left), Donna Stack’s camoflaged Hanbok which deals with her dual identity as a Korean and Southern American and Elizabeth Morisette’s “Platelet,” which uses plastic rings to represent platelets in our blood stream. Perhaps the most innovative reimagination of a material in the show would be in Susan Noyes’s (literally) razor-sharp pieces made of X-Acto knife blades but that emulate decorative tiles and traditional quilts (above, right).

Jessica Braiterman installing 'Aurora'

“Susan Noyes’s work using razor blades is both threatening and beautiful,” says Childers. “Her pieces might surprise people because it is such a denial of what the material is. It’s definitely a different way at looking at something ordinary and utilitarian.”

Childers adds that every artist in the show has something to offer. “Braiterman’s use of tons of buttons to create a natural occurrence will be interesting to viewers while Zofie Lang finds unique ways to incorporate fairy tales into her work,” he says. “Also, Donna Stack’s camouflaged Hanbok has a strong conceptual idea dealing with identity and personal history and Elizabeth Morissette depicts the body with pages from books, wax and plastic…Every piece in the show is a highlight!”

The most unique thing about the show, Childers says, is how it takes art-making down to its roots and forces artists to bend to their materials instead of the process working the other way around.

“There are very few true art-making techniques used in producing their work. There’s canvas, but no painting; there’s sculpture, but no carving, welding or casting. The artists in this show have to create new skills in using these materials that aren’t necessarily taught in foundation classes in art school,” he says.

“It’s more like they have adapted to the material instead of adapting the material to them. There’s a reverence they give to common materials, unlocking tons of potential and beauty using things unremarkable and disregarded. As a result of this, they’ve also created their own dialogues.”

Childers thinks the show can make a strong impact on its viewers.

“I hope it opens the viewer up to artists who think outside the box. I also hope it shows the viewer the potential of the things around them. This show might challenge those who have traditional views of what art is, but I hope that they would see that the same creative energy that created these works is the same as in traditional art. This show, like all art on some level, celebrates the creative spirit and innovative mind,” he says.

“Aesthetic Insubordination” opens March 10 with a reception from 3 pm to 6 pm at Curious Matter, 272 Fifth St. The show runs through April 14. The gallery is open Sundays from 12 pm to 3 pm and by appointment. For more information, visit their website.

Photos courtesy of Curious Matter

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Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.