Upstairs at School 33 Art Center with Annoying Poem and Relative Territory by Amber Eve Anderson
Sign a lease. Take a seat. Stretch your legs. Spread a blanket on the ground. Lock a door. Stake a flag. Build a fence. Recruit an army. Drop a pin.
Personal or political, the ways in which we occupy space are relative. From the way my body fills my clothing—the most intimate of architectures—to the stamps in my passport that serve as representations of border crossings, territories are constructed.
As much as man attempts to define space, rarely are those lines of demarcation set in stone. Feats of architecture, a wonder of the world, but meaningless in terms of ownership—today’s tourist destination at which you can arrive by cable car and depart sliding down a metallic toboggan, like the Great Wall of China.
Political borders often follow nature’s demarcations—rivers, mountains, oceans—while man-made spaces tend toward the rectilinear. Still, disputes persist, from the well-known territorial conflicts of Israel and Palestine or Kashmir (disputed by India, Pakistan and China), there are the many lesser known issues like those between Morocco and Western Sahara, where Google Maps draws a dotted line or changes the appearance of borders depending on one’s location. Even the United States continues to establish territorial demarcations, the last of which was in 2014 to define the maritime border between the U.S. and Niue. Mapping itself can be a form of control over a wild world.
Relative Territory in the Members Gallery upstairs at School 33 establishes a delicate sense of order to the organic meandering of territory. Controlled and spacious, the two-person show features the work of Lidia Malynowskyj and Carrie Fucile. A table-like sculpture sits in the middle of the space surrounded by wall and floor sculptures.
A circular pile of rocks sits on the floor in one corner, mirrored in the opposite corner by a group of chopped wood standing upright to support rock-like white ceramic forms. Four black pieces of paper hang on one wall, displaying the marks of broken bricks, possibly a remnant of the performance displayed on a monitor in the corner.
Malynowskyj’s “Ciclo Interrompido II” occupies an entire wall. Twenty-five flat white circular plaster formations are hung in a 5×5 grid. Each is a variation of a complete circle with organic shapes, small to large, removed from different parts of the circles.
There is a tension between the whole and its parts, the grid and the organic. This piece strikes me as a collection of aerial views of the globe, a three-dimensional thing flattened into manageable objects we can view from a single vantage point.
The grid speaks to our impulse to impose order, to collect and archive in an attempt to understand. Perhaps these are depictions of countries or islands that have become entire worlds unto themselves. The more disparate accumulations—one is a scattering of 21 small pieces, the fragments only giving the suggestion of a circle based on its part in the grid—call to mind depictions of brain activity—the oceans of the islands becoming the gray matter of our minds.
The circularity of “Ciclo Interrompido II” is repeated in Fucile’s “Shaker 2,” a pile of rocks connected to a bass shaker, amplifier and MP3 player playing Hungarian bird songs. Alone in the gallery, I couldn’t hear the piece, but I could feel it ebbing and flowing underneath my feet as I stood beside it.
I imagined it moving upward from my feet to fill my body, the vibrations flowing outward from the piece in concentric rings, traveling through the floor into the other objects resting on the ground. It served as a reminder that space can be occupied by sights and sounds. The relative territory of a neon billboard, a floodlight in a dark alley, a protestor on a loudspeaker, the whistle of a train as it approaches and recedes in the night. Like the sound spilling out of the Project Room to occupy the entire space of School 33.
Audible long before it is visible, Dina Kelberman’s Annoying Poem disrupts the quiet of Relative Territories. Its clanking insistence resounds throughout the galleries like sounds from a nearby construction site, the source unclear until you enter the space through a heavy black curtain.
Inside, the room glows a cool blue, a slightly less intense shade of ‘blank projector’ blue. Two projections are directed into the corners of the room that fills the opposite wall and folds onto the sidewalls—a slight seam visible where they meet in the middle (although this didn’t seem intentional).
The room (and beyond) is filled with the cacophony of wooden blocks being hurled into the corner of Kelberman’s studio, one after the other, the corners of the project space standing in for the actual corners of her studio. It is an action that cannot be controlled or contained. The blocks zoom across the projected space so quickly it’s hard to focus on them as objects. Blink and you’ll miss it, no matter that it repeats endlessly.
In the presence of Annoying Poem, it’s hard to see beyond the persistent clatter, but the thing that stayed with me after leaving is the blue. A blue like the ‘screen of death’ after Windows crashes. A cue to an error. ‘No signal.’ It’s the beginning and the end—the blue before and after an image on the screen. An absence. Blue, a color that evidence suggests didn’t exist in the ancient world because there was no word for it and therefore couldn’t be seen.
“Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world,” wrote Rebecca Solnit, although there is no distance here.
There is, by contrast, the very nearby: two corners in a small room. A wooden block—a toy I might have played with as a child—thrown into the projected void, only to bounce back and fly through the air again. You can’t escape the sound, an echoing that reverberates in your brain. A building block, not so dissimilar from the construction sounds I am reminded of, although nothing is being built here. It is a pointless act repeated, one that allows you to lose yourself inside of it. The blue of distance that renders conscious a mental space of mindfulness. It’s like meditation. Or flow. Or forgetting. Which is what you want to do after that aural onslaught.
You can escape the blue of Annoying Poem, but you can’t escape the sound waves, aptly titled, radiating out. Back into Relative Territory where the proliferation of circularity smooths the harsh edges of our imposed grid, I still hear the blocks hitting the corners of the room. The sound cannot be contained or controlled. It is ever-present. It is aggressive. It fills the room. It is overwhelming in its insistence—all that white noise and the repetition of the activity leaving no room for clarity until you abandon it. It contrasts with the very controlled order of Relative Territory.
Experienced together, these exhibits serve as reminders that space is arbitrary and that humans have conflicted relationships with it, and to one another regarding space. There are so many ways that we occupy space, quietly or aggressively, submissively or dominantly, and how that presence lingers in our memories is just as capricious.
Author Amber Eve Anderson is a Baltimore-based multidisciplinary artist whose work uses images, objects and language to explore themes of place and displacement. She is a recent graduate of the Mount Royal School of Art MFA program at MICA.