The first Wind Challenge of this season began with a bang at Fleisher Art Memorial. Jenny Thwing’s installation “Buried but Breathing” was the most unexpected and original work offered by the three artists–the other two who exhibited are Alana Bograd and Sarah Steinwachs.
A soundtrack of heavy breathing permeated Thwing’s gallery space. One small video is of a tiny bird struggling to breathe. A huge almost comic-strip haystack in the corner heaves up and down beneath a spotlight. Another video, Workshop (four minutes), is filled with metaphors for struggle, suffering, survival, creation and work. An apple is squeezed until it bursts. Buckets spin. A shrouded figure, the artist, creeps along the grass to accomplish some mysterious mission, leaning wood against a tree. A child hammers nails.
The juice of life permeates this work, as does the leaking of that juice, and over all there’s a suggestion of some spirit world. As if taking special effects from jokey horror movies, Thwing turns the horror into the magic of being alive–and then not. Either way, Thwing cuts to the chase.
At times, the colors in Alana Bograd’s fantasy paintings sweep me away. Other times I’m charmed by a blobby image of a reality filled with ogres and beasts amid the onion domes of Europe. Stacks like piled up hamburgers in buns stare out of heavy-lidded eyes, suggesting an animate earth on the watch. This is not a safe place, and I enjoy the suggestion of a mythological backstory. I feel like the artist has outgrown some of her older fantasy material, but has not yet figured out what’s what, what really matters to her.
The third artist, Sarah Steinwachs, creates beautifully crafted cut-out patterns of colored mylar, layered in plexi shadowboxes. The resulting landscapes of pattern and moire effects at times suggest water, air, neurons and other systems. But the tight craftsmanship packed behind the surface of the plexiglass seems too contained. There’s potential for this work to evoke the cosmos, but it falls short. Somehow, somewhere, something’s got to give.
The exhibit closed Oct. 30. The next Wind Challenge opens Dec. 9, with work by Anita Allyn, Laura Ledbetter and Erin Riley. This year’s nine Wind Challenge Artists were chosen from a field of 177 applicants.