The Warren Robbins Center gallery where the “Inside, Outside” exhibit waits quietly from nine until five every weekday and weekend for visitors is a silent place, where other, more exotic places hang on the walls for display.
Michael Underwood, a BFA senior, has been designing and curating the space for over three weeks, building frames, rearranging furniture and installing projectors, where pieces representing over a year of his work, will be displayed through March 31.
In itself the room doesn”t get much attention, but in conjunction with Underwood”s artwork it begins to assert itself. The theme of the exhibit revolves around places caught between disparate worlds, which is highlighted by a blending of perceptions. Photographed monuments, towers and ancient architecture, all nonfunctioning though heavily visited, are paralleled by photographs of modern wastelands: Living rooms and parking structures people use and live in but cast off as commonplace. Despite their physical differences, Underwood approaches both worlds with equal sensitivity for their aesthetic, underpinned qualities.
“If there were a narrative to this piece it would be about a person who sits down on his couch, looks at the wall and dreams of a foreign place,” Underwood said.
In the exhibit”s main room a window faces the door and fills the space with light. To the door”s right is a line of Canalettoesque shots of “foreign places” reminiscent of post cards and tourist mail: the Eiffel Tower”s lonely underbelly, a Colloseum girdled by a line of tourists beneath umbrellas, A cemetery in Prague. To the door”s left are two 4″ by 3″ landscapes of deserted Ann Arbor parking structures. At the left of the windows are three similar European views: A Venetian canal closed in by walls and shutters, the arches of the Pisa cathedral, and Liberty Island where the Lady looks out and the men look up with shaded eyes. At the right of the window are again, two huge, deserted parking structures where the oily concrete faces pitch blackness, where various points of light sear outward.
Moving to the left, a small opening, between angled walls, points toward a large picture of Sant”Ivo alla Sapienza”s ceiling lined by angels that twist the eye inward and up. Guided by this picture, the room contracts to a small interior space where a couch, desk, phone, thermostat and shuttered window sit together quietly like hands folded. Out the window a projected image of the Grand Canal floats by. Above the couch two framed projections quietly give witness to traffic as it moves across Florence bridges.
“I”d like people to look at these images as paintings,” Underwood said. “I”ve tried to take video and slow it down to the pace of a painting.”
Backing out of this room there is another smaller space, tucked in the corner where an outdoor wall covered with siding, and an indoor wall with floral-print wall paper juxtapose. If you open a small heat vent on the outdoor wall you”ll find an video image of a septic tank, as it surges and backs its water up. The tank is Underwood”s parents” and the footage comes from Trenton County.
These adjunct rooms give a contrasting perspective of border and limit to the larger room and places in Underwood”s photographs that loom and stretch beyond their framed borders. With the interplay of these rooms then, a visible interaction between our perception of foreign, imaginary places and the immediate world occurs and the beauty of both comes to the surface.
“I want to provide a sense of mystery to the room, where it feels like something isn”t quite resolved. Or at least give the sense that the game is a foot,” Underwood said.
Underwood has been compiling the exhibited in “Inside, Outside” for over a year. His video footage and photographs were taken last winter during a semester of study abroad in Florence, Italy. While traveling in Europe, Underwood confronted the feeling that his room encapsulates, which is that of all tourists who try to uncover the authentic.
“The genuine always eludes you when you travel, and the experience just gets more complicated by these monuments, which are real places when you look at them and yet they”re not.”
At the Student Awards show earlier this year, Underwood”s installation won the Robert D. Richards Memorial Award.