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Rowan's Group: Gallery Visit

Gallery Visit—Excess at Larson Art Gallery
Ben Alpert

The Excess exhibit at the Larson Art Gallery showcased the work of two artists: Becca Shewmake and Mari Richards. They each had roughly 15 mixed-media pieces in the exhibit, which were shown on walls, floor, and pedestals. All of Shewmake's work was done on canvas, and consisted of acrylic paint combined with collage elements (e.g. fabric, thread, gesso), and sometimes crayon or chalk. They were easily-distinguishable from Richards' works, which took found objects—such as plastic bags, blenders, or phones—and combined them with a flesh-colored plastic/rubber substance. Richards' work was displayed on a pedestal if it was small, and the floor if it was large (one work spanned the length of the gallery floor).

As made obvious by the title, the theme of the Excess exhibit was the wasteful nature of our society. Both artists commented on the state of our over-consumption and questioned the way in which we live. For Shewmake, this took the form of ambiguous shapes, which represented people and situations. Most of her work focused on an interaction between a being and a place, or a consumer and the consumed. Often the title was the best way to understand what was being signified, with illustrative names like We Drifted About Until One of Us Drowned and the series Meeting, Entering, Leaving. Her work was very much about cause and effect, and the interrelationship of us and the things around us. Effective imagery she employed includes acid rain, robot plants, and ameoba-like forms consuming each other. Richards' work was more direct and physical. She used melted, formless flesh-colored plastic to form relationships with recognizable objects. Her work focused on the way we continuously consume everything in front of us, even when we have no need to, or don't benefit from it. Effective pieces included a mound of flesh-plastic growing cell phone buttons, and a fleshy blender creating a sphere of trash. Neither artist relates too directly with ones we've discussed in class, but Richards' flesh creations could be seen as somewhat voyeuristic, like the photography of Nan Goldin. You get a certain sense of uneasiness looking at them.

One piece I found particularly interesting was Mari Richards' Stay Awhile (mixed media, 2007). It featured a metal-framed, diner-style chair covered in the plastic flesh, which was leaving a 15-foot-long trail of thick, lumpy rope made from garbage bags, cloth, and plastic. It was quite effective because it looked as thought the chair were defecating or its entrails were spilling out behind it, and they were made entirely of discarded human trash. The bags and cloth were also stuffed and sewn, so they looked like intestines or bizarre sausages; very anatomical. I think the artist probably chose this format because she felt it was the best way to show how we destroy. Her motivation was human wastefulness, and Stay Awhile represents each individual. It is like a horrific mirror.

If I were to talk to a friend about the exhibition, I would probably place more emphasis on Mari Richards' work, since I think it was more effective and memorable. I would tell them that it is a good gallery to visit because it is easy to forget how wasteful we all are. Excess is a good reminder for anyone. So I would tell them to go, but I would not be offended if they did not. It wasn't life-changing, just interesting.