Dancing with trees

Each of the six artists included in the group show Inside/Outside: Treelines, at Abington Art Center, has work in the outdoor sculpture garden as well as inside the gallery. But the gallery work is scheduled to close Saturday. But some of my favorite pieces were in the garden, and that will remain up until Nov. 22.

The show includes works by Joy Episalla, Robert Lobe, Thomas Matsuda, Jason Middlebrook, Chrysanne Stathacos and Steve Tobin.”

Since I can never resist a good laugh, I especially enjoyed the Episalla and Middlebrook pieces in the garden.

Joy Episalla
Grand Tetons of Yonkers by Joy Episalla

Episalla hung in the forest a huge scrim printed with a view of the Grand Tetons (taken from an image in her deceased father’s office, said the gallery notes). Grand Tetons of Yonkers manages to bring up the difference between picturesque and real nature at the same time that the transparency of the scrim merges the two landscapes. The title is a reminder of how we all walk around in the city with our own mental images of nature carried like portable refuges from the concrete.

Jason Middlebrook
We live in a Selfish World (I just want to watch squirrels run across my bridge), by Jason MIddlebrook

The other funny piece was Middlebrook’s We live in a Selfish World (I just want to watch squirrels run across my bridge). The squirrel bridge looks like a kid’s piece of play equipment as well as a primitive jungle bridge, the small scale and high position serving as a reminder that squirrels ‘r’ us and squirrels ‘r’ not us, afterall. We’re in nature and of nature–and not.

Steve Tobin
detail of Exploded Clay, 13 Works, by Steve Tobin

I was also crazy about Tobin’s indoor installation, 13 exploded-looking tree-forms made of clay, the interiors looking like geode crystals, but made of glass. Each piece was beautiful and complex.

Robert Lobe
Untitled Metamorphosis, by Robert Lobe

Robert Lobe’s beaten aluminum tree sheaths look like body armor for the trees, and goodness knows they need it, these days. Both the indoor and the outdoor pieces were imposing, and a reminder of the gargantuan scale of trees. The surfaces and shapes evoked elephants, another reference to size.

On the spiritual side, Chrysanne Stathacos’ maximalist wish-tree connects to the spirit world with knotted offerings of bits of fabric (it’s interactive–add a bit of cloth and help dress the tree while you make a wish); the fabric draped around the tree makes it look like a Spanish dancer. Thomas Matsuda’s minimalist burnt tree offerings, cut off near human height and shaped almost like bodies, suggest a self-sacrifice of powerful proportions.

For images, visit my Flickr set.

Keith Sharp speaks as the trees

Keith Sharp
Hair, by Keith Sharp, toned gelatin silver print

Also at Abington’s community gallery and closing Saturday, photographer Keith Sharp’s photos of himself dressed as a shrub or tree in bits of greenery and bark hit whimsical notes. The one where he becomes a treeman, covered head to toe, packs the strongest punch with its mix of existential man-against-the-sky and the humor of a moving tree. There’s also one where he lies down dressed as a trunk that seemed like a parody of Ana Mendieta. But I liked his shrubbery hair–way bigger than Angela Davis’ afro, and also his forsythia shirt (ouch, very Catholic). Because the costumes are so elaborate, I couldn’t help wondering how they survive long enough to be completed, let alone photographed.