Scott Pellnat’s massive, two-prong installation-invasion at University of the Arts and Stedman Gallery at Rutgers, Camden, is all essence of Back to the Future/mad scientist tinkering-with-a-purpose. If you could bottle the energy from “Ahab” at University of the Arts and from the room full of machine-creatures at Stedman, you’d have a product to compete with Red Bull.
I met Pellnat at Stedman to see his new works (they are in the 2-person show, (re)collecting (re)constructing: Scott Pellnat and Allen C. Topolski, curated by Cyril Reade). And he explained that he had a studio — this was news! Over the last two years, he’s been in exuberant production outside, under tents and tarps, in his 2-acre suburban New Jersey backyard, blissfully spitting out a group of steampunk machines made with motors, recycled material and lots of insulation/expansion foam, his new favorite material. The works are like characters, he explained. I thought they resembled critters out of comic books — either heroes or villains in some dark narrative. Scott said he’d lost everything in his outdoor studio when Superstorm Sandy came through, but received a grant, which helped him start up again.
Scott and his family used to live in Philadelphia, and the move to New Jersey was triggered by his wife’s new job. While he didn’t have a studio in Philadelphia, the space in the backyard now allowed him to sequester himself and make art amidst the trees, at all hours of day or night, with only occasional raised eyebrows by neighbors, and two, 2AM visits from Homeland Security — First, he said, HS had heard there was a bomb…and the next time, they had heard there were illegal migrant workers.
Scott invited the Feds in and disarmed them with his mechanical beasts — the boats and airplanes with jaws and teeth surrounded by rivers of painted expansion foam now on view at Stedman and UArts. The pieces look like they just exploded out of a superhero comic book, and the Feds liked what they saw. Scott also made friends with some skeptical neighbors and turned them into fans of his work.
The artist misses the city. While he was born and raised on a working farm in upstate New York, he’s spent many years living in New York, when he attended Parsons School of Design, and in Philadelphia, when his wife, Nadine, was working at Drexel University. Middlebush, NJ, a hamlet within the town of Somerset, does not stoke his imagination the way the grit, bustle and tension of the big city does.
Scott made a splash with ith several installations he did when he was a CFEVA Fellow, and more recently with his piece in Catagenesis at Globe Dye Works, in 2012. That work has now been cannibalized and much of it turned into “Ahab” and the works at Stedman. “It’s not about the objects,” Pellnat says. “It’s about the conversation between them.”
The works are like characters in a play, he says. And what that play is about, well, it’s for you to say. Scott’s had a lot of dental work this year, and yes, there are teeth everywhere in these beastly objects. But it’s not about dentistry, or about teeth per se. It’s more the idea of jaws and bodies and insides and outsides all being exposed for what they are — raw, animal, instinctual.
In a way, this is adolescent boy art, and Scott freely admits it. He never cartooned when he was that age, but he agrees that these works are cartoons. Also, many things look a little (and more than a little) phallic, and some of the mechanized pieces rock back and forth in a sexually suggestive rhythm. And then there is all that viscera on the ground, like someone just lost their lunch or worse. Pellnat says he’s been watching a lot of zombie movies and he’s struck by the difference between the now-classic zombies and their lumbering aimless walkabouts, and the lightning-fast roaring around of the current crop of zombies. If there’s zombie in these works, it’s the classic kind. These pieces, which threaten and loom at you, albeit slowly, are guaranteed to appeal to the risk-taker, danger-lover in you. Installed at Stedman, you walk among the pieces slowly, for fear they will knock into you, or you into them. You slow down and become your own kind of zombie. And the dream walk they take you on is one to remember. This is for real. Check out the Rutgers show before it closes OCt. 30. The works at UArts are up until mid-November.
A little history out-take
I met the artist in 2008 when I did a studio visit with him in his South Philly home. At that time, without a studio, his house was the studio, and the house was his art. He was making fantastical furniture and sexy wax human/animal figures; he painted and stenciled the stairs; built a functioning tower on top of his second-story rowhouse roof; and worked on the computer with architectural plans and programs. The place was a wonder that might not have passed L&I inspection but the whole building was such a labor of love and obsession by a clearly-ambitious and hard-working artist, I was quite captivated. I’m still awed by the work, which has now taken this interesting, cartoonish turn. More pictures of the Stedman show here, and the UArts installation here.
Scott Pellnat, “Ahab,” outside Hamilton Hall, University of the Arts, Broad and Pine Streets, until mid-November. (re)collecting (re)constructing: Scott Pellnat and Allen C. Topolski, Stedman Gallery, Rutgers, Camden. until Oct. 30. rcca.camden.rutgers.edu