'Sub Terrain' explores states of being at Work Gallery

BY BRAD SANDERS
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 27, 2010

If “Inception” made you question the meaning of reality, the University may have something to blow your mind. At the School of Art & Design's gallery Work • Ann Arbor, an exhibit titled “Sub Terrain” explores different levels of consciousness through various forms of media — from paintings and sculptures to an interactive mask projection.

"Sub Terrain"


Tuesday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Work • Ann Arbor
Free

These levels of consciousness range from examining sleeping patterns — either peaceful or troubled — in a photography piece by Mira Burack, to a fantastical and surreal state, shown in a projection piece of the islands over which Amelia Earhart reportedly disappeared and commenting on her intriguing image in today’s world.

“Some of the pieces seem literal, like The Burrow by Melissa Jones,” said Andrew Thompson, the show’s curator and a lecturer in the School of Art & Design. “It’s referencing this human child that is feral, living in an underground dwelling in an iron suitcase, so it’s kind of an underground space you can fold up and take with you.”

Inspiration for “Sub Terrain” came from Thompson’s previous work with independent artist Audrey Russell.

“Audrey had a solo show a few years ago in her hometown, Greenville, Tennessee, and she hired me to write her exhibition essay,” Thompson explained. “I liked the thoughts I put down so I thought this could be a show. I called her and I was like, ‘Audrey I have an idea for a show and you have to be in it because you’re the foundation for it.’ ”

Russell commonly works with landscapes and parts of the body.

"It’s all kind of a mystery where things feel familiar, but there’s a lot of unexplained elements going on, and you wonder how much is weird psychological baggage and how much is free association,” Thompson said. “That’s the idea behind the show, finding other artists that have work that has an element of mystery to it.”

With an idea in mind, Thompson had to find a space to house the “Sub Terrain” exhibit. One of his top two choices was Work • Ann Arbor. The gallery allows anyone in the Art & Design at the University to propose a show, including students, lecturers and faculty members.

The pieces in the exhibit have widely varying backgrounds and contexts to them, with influences from literature, history and medicine. Some of the pieces are frightening and shocking, such as Sleep of Reason by Rachel Frank, which features photography of three figures in a room wearing donkey costumes.

“She references Francisco Goya, who has pieces about death and people as demons,” Thompson said. “So these donkey people are like monsters in this state of being.”

There is one piece in “Sub Terrain” by the University’s own Scott Wagner and Morgan Morel, both Performing Arts Technology majors in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Their interactive project, titled Face Lift, gives one person the opportunity to look into a camera that projects his or her face into the openings of a mask. Another person looks through the mask and sees that projection.

“It was a combination of our mutual interests,” Wagner said. “Morgan was doing a lot of video-on-video work, manipulating the images by turning the camera on the screen, and I was inspired by an artist named Tony Oursler, who does a lot of interesting work with different forms of face projections.”

With its own room in the “Sub Terrain” exhibit, Face Lift has been able to evolve since its first production.

“(The room) really encloses the piece, but also, it’s the first time we had the opportunity to set it up so that the participants are more or less face-to-face, which I think is how we originally intended,” Wagner explained. “In the original idea, we wanted to make a real-time video delay, caused by using a cable connecting the camera and projector that was at least five hundred feet long.”

Thompson has striven to create an exhibition that not only has mysterious and thought-provoking works, but pieces that are eye-catching as well.

“I want all the work to be intriguing enough and interesting enough to look at on an aesthetic value, whether it’s color or form or subject matter,” Thompson explained. “The exhibit is kind of like a buffet — there’s all these different visual flavors going on. If someone wanted to see a painting show they would only be partially satisfied, so I tried to make something for everybody and to represent different media.”

“Sub Terrain” is built to encourage confrontation of subjects unknown to the viewer.

“You look at it and think you can understand, you think, ‘I can break this down, I can analyze it and it’ll make sense,’ but really the work has this element where it defies precise logic,” Thompson said. “It’s not a Freudian show.”

Having less than a week to replace the old show in the gallery, Thompson and Mark Nielsen, the director of the gallery, worked tirelessly to finalize “Sub Terrain.” In the end, Nielsen had only positive things to say about the result.

“I personally find the show extremely satisfying,” Nielsen wrote. “The work is compelling, edgy, and often surprising, and was curated and installed with a lot of sensitivity and respect for each individual work.”