Carving an experimental niche

Back when I visited the “Alumni of 1801” show at the artists live/work space at 1801 Howard St. in Kensington (see previous post), current 1801er John Gibbons wanted to show me new work in his studio along with some collaborative projects he was working on with Takatomo Tomita. So we climbed the 4 or 5 flights of stairs (I lost count on the way up) to Gibbons’ studio/apartment space and had a little newsy chat and a look. Here’s some previous posts (one and two) on Gibbons and on Tomo (here), both of whom we’ve covered previously on artblog.

Tomo got a show opening Oct. 8 at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery (Isaac Resnikoff will also be featured and Tomo says it’s mostly Isaac’s show and he’s got a little corner in the gallery to put work in). That show runs to Nov. 12. (And in case you’re wondering the Alumni of 1801 show is up through Oct. 17.)

Film that is, film that will be


Gibbons and Tomo are beginning to collaborate on film. Tomo says he’s been influenced a lot by John’s art and John says he’s a long-time fan of Tomo’s art. I wanted to know how they planned to collaborate on a film. They said they would go out together and shoot film together — simultaneously — of the same thing and then merge the two camera streams together. They haven’t done that project yet but I look forward to seeing it. It has potential for being surreal and reverberant with our information glut of a society. What they have done is a film — projected on the wall — in which John inserted some footage of fireworks that he took into a stream of urban images shot by Tomo. The whole thing is dreamy and the fireworks are definitely a surprise. It was atmospheric and serendipitous.

Carving plaster


Gibbons, who has been working collaboratively with his partner Isobel Sollenberger on plaster, ink and paper wall works showed me how they’ve taken it to the next level and are now carving into a real wall and adding ink and paper onto the architectural plaster. The pieces I saw were atmospheric and subtle.

(image here and below are the carved wall. the detail shows what is a deep sea creature — a skate maybe?)


Gibbons called them murals and they are, however their appearance on the wall –subtracting matter instead of applying it — is more surprising than a painted mural because it’s subtle, intimate and tactile. I wanted to touch the carved marks.

Carving walls — maybe because of its transgressive nature and also because of the way it was done here, quietly, and demurely — turns the wall into skin and the mark-making into tattoos or scarification. It turns the wall into a kindred being instead of an anonymous architectural support. The whole thing made me think of the dings and scratches and patches on the walls of my house in a new way. Poor old walls, poor old house.


Speaking of architecture

Tomo is working on some architectural pieces using sticks. Ad hoc structures that are wired together, they are influenced by visionary architect Lebbeus Woods. He’s also got some box pieces that are either un-assembled cardboard boxes or assembled boxes. They are in progress so it’s not fair to comment. I’ll only say that when I backed into one by accident the artist didn’t get upset seeming to imply either that the materials were not precious so there was no harm done — or that a serendipitous crunch by a foot might be a part of the art.

(image is a cardboard box piece and a stick piece in the studio)

On the computer

Tomo had a 10-second computer animation based on morning glories. “917 days” I believe he said was the title, although that may have been 9/17 as in Sept. 17. There’s tinkly music that goes with it and the entire piece, made with iMovie he said, which I saw on his laptop computer, is like a Jeremy Blake piece on speed.

Rorschack-like mirroring, fades in and out, sideways splits. It’s a great piece on the computer — blown up big it would be very trippy and beautiful. Tomo wanted to know if I had seen Max Lawrence‘s computer animation at Vox. He and Gibbons both loved that work. (my image of the computer piece doesn’t do it justice, colorwise or any other which way)


Tomo also had a wall of drawings and a shelf with a few cast resin figures. I’m a big fan of his figures and was happy to see he’s still working on them.

(image is shelf with Tomo’s cast resin figures)

Through the glass darkly
Finally, Gibbons had been experimenting with video distortion filming things through an improbable found lens — an empty whiskey bottle. He positioned the bottle in front of the camera (both were sitting on a shelf) and turned the camera on. He had this up and running at the opening and captured the flow of people into and out of his studio. The resulting piece looks like ghosts wandering around an ice cave.

The work reminded me of ultrasound images — everything was oddly x-ray like and womb-ish. And nothing was clear unless you were a kind of expert and knew what you were looking at.

The whole thing seemed a great metaphor for how the mind works when it’s degenerated down to the id level of reception and cognition. Very nice I thought.


And then, maybe inspired by the Ice Age ambiance of the video, Gibbons set up another wintry experimental piece — a little throw away installation behind a door. On the floor in the corner, a place where dust collects, sit tiny styrofoam balls, moved by a small circulating fan that blows air on them setting them to move back and forth and a little bit up and down. Some of the pebbles travel high enough to get illuminated by the spotlight beaming down. It’s a funny little snow squall. Forlorn and absurd like Fargo and simple stupid funny and a little poetic at the same time.


I can hear someone out there complaining…what is the good of all this — a little snow squall in a corner; some video distorted through a glass bottle lens; sticks and cardboard as architectural experiments. Student-y and uncooked, you’re thinking. Hate it, you’re thinking.

(image is Tomo (left) and Gibbons (right) in the studio)

Well I’m not sure there’s saleable product here for everyone but I know that there is genuine, bona fide art experimentation going on. And as with anything seen in the studio and in the heat of the creative moment, it’s hard to tell what’s the final outcome may look like. But I think that the Gibbons/Sollenberger plaster work is solid and I’d love to see the duo given a gallery to install so they could really push the wall carving and plaster and ink pouring. I think it could be great.

And I’ll stick my neck out here and say that Gibbons’ experimental video-making through the bottle and the collaboration between him and Tomo will be fruitful and will push them both in new directions. Tomo’s animation is flat-out wonderful and I hope he shows it at Fleisher-Ollman — or puts it on the web. (Calling the Vacuum — this one’s for you!)

Collaborative experiments can be great. There’s energy here and play going on and that’s a great creative cauldron to be in.


And just as an aside, I’ll mention that the POST (Philadelpha Open Studios Tours) is coming up. This year there are 150 artists and galleries participating. And if you’ve never been in an artist’s studio the POST opportunity is a great studio immersion opportunity.

CFEVA is hosting a more comprehensive listing of POST information. Here. And here’s just a few names I picked out of the big list that might make interesting studio visits:

west of broad oct 8-9

afif gallery
louise barteau chodoff
edward epstein
marjorie grigonis
delia king
photo west gallery
lee tusman

east of broad oct. 15-16

jim brossy
charles burwell
elaine erne
judy gelles
john murphy
norm paris.
tomita, takatomo