Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

Installations create viewing environment

Art becomes life at annual KU student exhibition

May 9, 2004


Meghan Bahn's neighbors think she's crazy.

For several hours most days this spring, the Kansas University graduate student has been dragging her toastmaster outside her Old West Lawrence home, loading it with slices of Wonder bread and charring them to a deep shade of black.

Although several toaster fires and the tendency for freshly burned slices stacked 10-high to spontaneously combust have led to lively conversations, Bahn's not toasting for fun.

She's toasting for art.

This is her final project for KU art professor Maria Velasco's installation art class, which has its annual exhibition Monday through Thursday at the Art and Design Gallery.

"I'm creating a relationship between a toaster that doesn't seem to work very well and a DustBuster that has to clean up the toast that the toaster is burning," she explains. "It's a task that it won't be able to achieve."

The piece is about futility and domestic dysfunctional relationships, using appliances as stand-ins, Bahn says.

She plans to pile the toast -- which fills dozens of paper bags in her studio at KU's Art and Design Building -- into a small mountain with her blackened toaster peeking out the top. A DustBuster will be positioned at the bottom of the pile, poised for the impossible task of cleaning up the mess.

Bahn is only toasting Wonder bread.

"I think Wonder break is symbolic of that wholesome suburban life that I think burns people out," she says. "And I just wanted to transform something that sort of symbolizes wholesomeness into something that would be not good for you and not tasty."

Her project illustrates an important point about installation art. Sometimes it's not pretty. It's not the kind of thing most gallery-goers would buy and display in their homes.

It's about atmosphere, Velasco says.

"Installation art can be a number of different things," she says. "It basically deals with creating an environment. The concept and the media that you use evolve together."

Often, installation artists use video, audio and other technologies to enhance the experience.

Andrew Leek, a fifth-year art student with a background in video production, will capitalize on his expertise in his final project, tentatively titled "Moments in Time."

What: Ninth annual Installation Art ShowWhen: Monday-Thursday, with an opening reception from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday in the galleryWhere: Art and Design Gallery, Art and Design Building, Kansas UniversityHours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday

His interest in quantum physics, metaphysics and spirituality got him thinking about visualizing a moment in time. He's using computer animation to create a video sequence that will be projected onto a translucent hemisphere and explore the instant when a raindrop hits water and sends out ripples.

"It has a lot to do with the fabric of space and time," he says.

He's intrigued by the idea that a viewer might step inside the environment he creates and experience an alternate reality.

"I'm very interested in controlling people's environments," he says. "We're very visual people. I guess if you can completely encompass someone's range of vision, I think you can really throw people off balance, literally."

Velasco teaches the class annually in the spring. This will be the ninth year for the Installation Art Show.

"I think it's a very interesting exhibition for the community because there aren't very many venues here in Lawrence, and installation art is a nontraditional way of showing," she says, "so it gives people an opportunity to experience art in a different way."

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