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Exhibit explores 'The Things We Keep'


March 08, 2016

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    Allison Tierney’s exhibit, “The Things We Keep,” is on show at the Contemporary Gallery at Georgia Southern University’s Contemporary Gallery of the Center for Art & Theatre through March 25. 
    With bright colors, geometric shapes and pleasing shadow planes, Tierney’s artwork is easily accessible if not necessarily easily discernible. 
    Her work features materials both playful and austere, oftentimes juxtaposed within one piece: straight lines bleed into pools of dripped paint and tight patterns devolve into hazy boundaries. The show also toes the line between high art and the everyday object in a way that feels inclusive, even within a gallery setting. 
    Tierney studied both ceramics and painting, and the distinctions made between the two have influenced her artwork. 
    “Dishes, bowls, plates and mugs all serve utilitarian purposes,” Tierney said. “They are seen as craft because they have a use, as opposed to fine art, which is just for looking at. I’m blurring that line a little, bringing objects of function into pieces that become fine art.” 
    One painting does feature a porcelain plate, embedded within a painted canvas. Another, across the room, includes a square of beige carpet, and to the left of it, the curved wooden arm of a chair lays inset into another canvas. The carpet and armchair pieces are works that began with an intention — in this case “defining a room, breaking it down to its most basic function” — but sometimes, Tierney said, she just “holds onto things because they look interesting, and eventually they’ll work their way in.” 
    In fact, if there is one thing every piece in the show has in common, it is the foraged, or found, object. Those objects — from carpet to fabric remnants to doorframes to AstroTurf — could be evocative of a variety of things to a variety of viewers. 
    “Everybody’s relationships to objects are different,” said Tierney, who is also influenced by the do-it-yourself, or D.I.Y, culture. “When you participate in D.I.Y, you are imbuing an object with elevated value,” she said. “I’m interested in putting value back into discarded objects, things tossed or deemed valueless.”
    To that end, Tierney makes use of the waste produced by her creative processes, such as paint drips, paper towels and fabric scraps. “I try to repurpose that back into my work, and that work becomes a snapshot, or archive, of my practice.” 
    As displayed at the Contemporary Gallery, these archives take the shape of a series of shadow boxes filled with colorful ribbons of painter’s tape, dust from the studio floor and even, occasionally, a strand of hair.     
    Also nearby are a series of wooden crates, which contain globs of excess paint, scraps of cloth and other mysterious detritus. Tierney likes that viewers cannot necessarily see everything inside, and tends “to withhold a little from the viewer,” careful not to “give everything up right away.” 
    “I’m interested in how people react,” she said, “realizing they’ve been looking at a paper towel.”
    It is not always by withholding that Tierney surprises. In one corner, there hangs a green and gold woven tapestry, the warp and weft of which loosen as it lengthens. The tapestry eventually extends beyond the wall, escaping from its expected trajectory, spilling onto the floor. 
    It calls to mind a rug or placemat, a familiar textile. We might, in another setting, be expected to experience it through touch, but we “can’t really walk on it because it’s in a gallery space,” Tierney said, referring to this confusion as an “internal struggle.” 
    Tierney’s emphasis on textiles, craft, and home goods does give a “very subtle nod” to the politics of the domestic sphere, and builds upon the mid-century feminist practice of bringing domestic objects into museums in order to redefine their value. 
    But to Jason Hoelscher, gallery director and assistant professor of art, Tierney is taking it a step further, “removing the ambiguity” from displaying found objects as art by “adding them to traditional forms.” 
    “The picture plain with paint is very traditional,” Hoelscher said, “but embedding everyday items and crafts into that traditional art context is transformative.”
    Even without a background in art history, D.I.Y, throwaway culture or feminism, Hoelscher believes that every viewer can enjoy the exhibit. “Sometimes, your non-art-trained observer thinks there’s something they are missing,” said Hoelscher, but while “Allison’s work can certainly be appreciated from an art school/art theory perspective,” people of all stripes will “encounter beautiful, sensuous objects” within “The Things We Keep.”
    “With every step you take toward this piece, the shadows and images vary,” Hoelscher said, as we stood before what was, for me, the real showstopper: a large triangular installation comprised of dozens of smaller, pennant-like triangular wood scraps that, from a distance, seem to be identical in size and shape. Coming closer to the piece reveals, though, that the triangles are different in color and thickness. Some still bear the construction markings of strangers and the shadows truly are complex, fluctuating. 
    So although “The Things We Keep” does photograph beautifully, Hoelscher believes that Tierney’s work is best-appreciated in-person. For him, this exhibit is a welcomed, visceral experience in what has become a highly-digitized art world: an opportunity to engage in real time and real space with pieces that actually change depending upon how you look at them.
    “Photographs can’t do the works’ complexity justice,” he said, and I can attest now that words can’t, either. For my part, it took me a while to hunt those paper towels down, but I did find them, and when I realized what they were, my nose was nearly touching them. 
    “The Things We Keep” is on show through March 25 at the Contemporary Gallery. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

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