Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Pam Bowman & Noah Coleman: For the Time Being

The setting for the current exhibitions at Art Access is simple enough. Art Access I and Art Access II galleries house one installation each: Ebb and Wax by Pam Bowman and Things are Becoming New by Noah Coleman. Yet once the viewer encounters this space and immerses herself within the art, what is found is a sophisticated atmosphere complete with innovative and inventive approaches to communicating complex aesthetic content. Both artists have created a thoughtful and imaginatively articulated presentation that can be experienced in myriad ways. One provocative and poignant reading, that engenders a grasp of essential meanings in both artists’ installations, can be found in the concepts of temporal existence and the reality of transcending time and space.

In Art Access I’s uneven space, 30 cocoon-like forms of carved foam covered with naturally dyed and hand-stitched batting are suspended from the ceiling by dyed cotton cords. Each is of a different size, shape, and color, the cord wrapped around it’s center. This creates a strangely surreal atmosphere made more so by the installation’s omnipresent whirling sound, which one soon registers as emanating from motors. Bowman’s cocoons or pods are, with a few exceptions, being raised and lowered at a very slow pace. What appears, at first glance, to be a still moment, is in a constant state of flux.

Ebb and Wax is an ambitions departure for Art Access, for its scale and bold aesthetic approach, which can be a visual, cognitive, emotional and visceral experience. This experience may involve a meditative quality and a calming effect brought about by these cocoon shapes’ deliberate and precise journey through space. One may feel a calm as one wanders amongst the cascade of objects that, although artificial, allow the gallery-goer to connect with the natural. The motion, although almost imperceptible at first, renders the experience as closely to the organic as the confines of the gallery space will permit and enables a holistic and contemplative environment.

According to Bowman, this contemplation evokes a sense that, “the realities of life surround us with patterns, rhythms and cycles. Some rhythms are inevitable — even essential — to life: Breathe in, breathe out, go up, go down, come and go, ebb and flow, wax and wane. They relate to the life force of our body, the life force of our community, and the life force of the earth.”

The perception of the slow methodical movement of the shapes that seem still yet are actually in a state of flux unite with what Bowman refers to as “rhythms” that resonate in the gallery as natural and are orderly and harmonious. This condition frees the gallery-goer to be brought into a sense of calm self-reflection in a security of the here and now, the present, in every shade of existential temporality.

Yet a disruptive and jarring noise can be heard from Art Access II, interrupting the serenity and the soothing whirl of the motors in Bowman’s exhibit. This is Noah Coleman’s Things Are Becoming New, an installation that considers creation and destruction with five sculptural installations made of mundane and found objects such as steel and plastic. How can these two seemingly cacophonous installations possibly be reconciled? They are in fact congruous and a meaningful counterpoint to each other.

The five sculptural pieces that constitute Coleman’s installation have an industrial look and feel that is recondite and alien, but once you learn of Coleman’s secrets the work assumes a sense of the natural, the universal, the real and rings true. He says, “For some time, I have been examining repetition in my artwork. Studying and exploring the idea of repetition led me to see all of existence in terms of cycles… I realized that by making a work, I was, in a way, destroying the materials to create it. This cycle of creation and destruction intrigued me because I realized that both are necessary to make art. Each of these works examines different aspects of destruction and creation, sometimes blurring the distinction between them.” As intense as this might sound and as boisterous as Coleman’s installation might seem, his exhibition is in fact lyrically philosophical and ultimately poetic.

A sculpture consisting of a plastic floor fan with toilet paper tied to it, blowing upwards, contrasts in volume and mass to the larger sculpture next to it titled “Petitions.” This large cast-iron turbine is a found object, in which the artist has installed a video monitor playing a roaring flame that fits the large object seamlessly. On this screen one sees pieces of paper being cast into the fire. On these pieces of paper are poems describing Coleman’s wants, wishes, desires, hopes, and dreams. The pieces of paper are incinerated in moments, as are Coleman’s wants, wishes, desires, hopes and dreams. This act of creation of the poems and its destruction in the fire explores a plurality of meaning as the burning does not necessarily connote an end: in many traditions, rituals and cultures, the act of burning is often a new beginning.

“Fears, Doubts and Insecurities” seems to have come from the same junkyard as “Petitions.” It is a standing sculpture of steel, with a steel drum that mechanically rotates, churning a quantity of stones and creating a loud noise as well as a meaningful antithesis of “Petitions.” On each stone is inscribed one of Coleman’s burdens in life: his challenges, fears, anxieties, troubles, and worries.|7| They cycle around and around the rotating drum with the effect that there is some wear, but at an excruciatingly slow pace. Here again is the cycle of repetition in existence and the act of creation and destruction of the object. Unlike the fragile poems of hope that can be offered as some sort of spiritual effigy, seen to incinerate quickly and with terrific force and energy, these rocks, that bear such weight, do little but turn and revolve to slowly wear over the course of time, in bondage to the repetition that is the source of creation and ultimate destruction.

“Well?” answers “Petitions” and “Fears, Doubts and Insecurities” with a metaphoric and bold synthesis. It is simply an aged industrial size steel barrel painted green, chipped and worn with age, filled with black oil, which is roiling at the surface. It is inspired by Coleman’s childhood memories of looking into a still pool of oil and being able to see his clear reflection in the black infinity. Yet one cannot grasp a reflection in the distorted surface of “Well?” let alone view infinity, as all is at once creation and destruction, nothing is permanent, everything is process, cycle, and the moment is unattainable. Hopes are created and destroyed, suffering is an act of creation and destruction, and nothing is enduring, no more than a reflection can be in a churning pool of oil.

A final sculpture consisting of a television screen poised on a pile of broken glass projecting a serious Buddhist monk playing with a Slinky might be reason to pause and reflect that the material weightiness and density of Coleman’s installation can be appreciated for more abstract and buoyant qualities signified as the act of process and the existential states of creation and destruction succumb to the transcendental reality that reaches beyond the conditional temporality of space and time. The ethereal and halcyon qualities of Bowman’s installation, viewable just past this last piece, functions to bring us back into the concrete present, the now, the ebb and the flow and the measured motion of the cocoons that represent nature, earthly existence and the contemplation of daily life.

These are remarkable exhibitions for both Bowman and Coleman as each are thoughtful, appealing and provocative. They are a distinctive showing for Art Access of compelling installation that can and does mean many things, but for the moment, the subject is time.

Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.

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