By Dennis D’Alesandro
Hive/Cave, a group show containing more than 35 artists at Pageant : Soloveev through July 17, sees Philadelphia as the breeding grounds for a disparate collection of insect-like hives where busy artists shack up and take shelter. Once settled in these spaces, they are able to simmer, grow, collect, and spit out their art like sugary vomit to nourish their neighbors and children.
Assembled by Daniel Dalseth, owner and director of Pageant, the show is packed with raw cutting edge art by both up-and-coming as well as established Philadelphia-based artists. With sculpture, video, sound, drawing, installation and photography, the show is a smartly curated hodgepodge of mediums reflecting the current state of contemporary art across the city. Hive/Cave was also rife with performances on opening night, which included live hair-cuts accompanied by a barber shop quartet, and a multi-sensory performance by gas-mask wearing painters with microphones amplifying their breathing and other surreal sounds.
Upon entering the gallery, high on the western wall is a large triangular wall sculpture by Liv Helgesen made from paper stacked between wooden planks and then burned. This is a really powerful piece with a menacing presence and volume in the room. It comes off as some sort of totemic symbol, a lo-fi mathematical hieroglyphic that alludes to a strange, pagan alchemy.
Helgesen’s triangle goes really well with Dante Blackstone’s excellent Christmas tree installation on the ceiling. Four Douglas-firs defy gravity and aggregate with each other in the middle of the ceiling of the gallery. Although this piece has a dangerously sacrilegious feel, it simultaneously portends to the existence of God. It’s as though God has used his great powers to summon his children into heaven – but they just can’t seem to get through the ceiling. One ponders whether the limitations lie with the divine power, or if humans have sealed their own fate and trapped themselves within the confines of their own creations.
Another awesome piece, perhaps my favorite in the show, is an installation by Preston Link. A modest wooden box hangs just above an inconspicuous light switch. A horizontal slit at the center of the box reveals the outer edge of a band saw blade, which is housed out of sight inside the box. The blade is painted with the step-by-step modulations of an artist’s color wheel. When you flick the switch, it fires up the loud saw inside, causing the multicolored color wheel to spin so that all of the individual colors appear to mix together. The result is a beautiful grey-golden mud that shimmers and reverberates like a hallucination hovering from the box’s slash. This humorous piece speaks to the power of illusion through calculated visual editing. If you can cancel out the blaring sound of the saw, it’s almost like magic!
Other standouts from this excellent show include Marc Zajack’s cement boat sculpture; intricate black and white paper cuts by Joe Boruchow; an eight-hour tape loop recording of an interview with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei by Hong Kong Phooey; and Michael Olivo’s self-destructing battleship/shark installation.
A small sculpture by Zajack perfectly sums up the intention of Hive/Cave. A small piece of dollhouse furniture, with its cabinet doors flung open, spews an uncontrollable outpouring of waxen honey. It could be seen as a metaphor for the artist, who packs things away inside until a critical mass is achieved and the floodgates open, revealing a new body of work that gushes outward in an unforeseeable, new rush of expression.
All in all, the show is a great success, piecing together a beautiful, irreverent, humorous, alchemical, and immediate compendium of contemporary art from the many hives and caves dispersed throughout the city of cheesesteaks.