press release

One can imagine that if play were absent from our lives, the world in which we live would be a much smaller, narrower universe. The unknown has been discovered, the familiar expanded, the indescribable expressed, as the result of countless hours spent playing, experimenting, or doing things with no particular consequence other than it seemed fun at the time. It has led to profound concepts, breathtaking accomplishments, and as this exhibition purports, great works of art. Though play has often led to notable creative works, it was not until the Surrealist and Dada artists introduced play, chance, and experimentation as art that the value of play was recognized. Avoiding pretensions of seriousness, the eight artists gathered for the exhibition PLAY offer us, at first glance, playful gestures, silly observations, and/or inconsequential and bizarre experimentations. They invite us to be amazed, humored, and satisfied before we need to ask “what is it about?” And yet with further consideration, their works reveal a variety of complex investigations into social and personal concerns, elements of chance, and careful observations. Play, as utilized and/or examined by the artists in this exhibit emerges specifically from the type of activity that comes from childhood - games, toys, competition, role-playing, etc. All adults themselves, these artists affirm the premise that through a re-visitation of playful exploration, by taking the seemingly circuitous route, new realms as well as forgotten ones can be discovered.

For the British photographer and curator Sian Bonnell the mundane setting of one’s daily surroundings is a source of great inspiration. Through her alterations of domestic landscapes in her series Everyday Dada, Bonnell creates renewed wonderment by introducing actions that suggest the possibility of a housewife gone mad, or a child’s play gone curiously array, and which inspire us to consider the aesthetic potential of your average lunch meat sandwich. Artist Doug Holden’s art-actions hold a similar allegiance to Dada (which called for the celebration of life through art, often through the act of turning notions of art upon its head). Employing randomness and playful behavior in his artwork, as seen through the kickball toss that is the central action of his two-channel video piece Ball, Holden both creates and disrupts the visual occurrence of a ball passing between the two video monitors, not unlike the child who both builds a sandcastle only to find utter satisfaction in owning its destruction.

The wife/husband team, Mary Magsamen & Stephan Hillerbrand, have engaged in a type of competitive play within their collaborative works, which began following years of individual art making. Often through the guise of childish behaviors and games, together they create pieces that depict themselves continuously competing to one up or excise the other. In air hunger, a photography and video installation, they create an ethereal womb-like environment where between the snap of bubbles, and the exhalations and inhalations, we learn what is at stake in their activity is nothing less then life itself.

Children playing often find themselves to be a source of attention for photographers as well as doting parents. In capturing the acts of pure enjoyment and thrill, the photographer creates the opportunity to celebrate, reclaim, or in some cases call into question the play of our youth. Since 1999 Alessandra Sanguinetti has returned to her family in Argentina to work collaboratively with two young female cousins for the series The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams. Together they visually recreate their dreams and echo the vital role “playing” serves - to explore what cannot always be expressed verbally, and pay homage to the unbridled possibilities that fill the young women’s minds before the impositions of social and cultural orders alter their innocent freedom. Considering the impact and the influence the objects we play with holds in molding the persons we become, William Laven offers a straight-on examination of the toy models of war planes marketed for children’s play. His work reflects on how the tools of war are presented as familiar and comfortable. In producing each piece at a scale of 1/72 to its real life counterpart, Laven creates a mid ground between the toy and the actual warplane in which their influence can be explored.

For many of us, as the years between youth and adulthood grow, an air of supposed maturity or sophistication seems to dictate our behavior, preventing potential slurps of spaghetti, spontaneous races down crowded sidewalks, and so on. In Meredith Allen’s sugary rich landscape images from the Melting Ice Pop series, she reveals the doorways that play can open. Allen allows the subject of her photograph to go beyond the brink, and holds against the desire to capture perfection, and instead records the moment at which things seem to come apart. The result of which is an excitement of the senses - of sight, smell, touch and even taste – and the resurrection memory unattainable by a linear approach.

While much of the play in this exhibition has been performed by the artists themselves in or prior to the creation of the work, multi-media artist Olivia Robinson’s interactive work is dependent on our active engagement, inviting us to play by shaking, cranking, and clicking her work! In bringing us into an intimate sphere through contact with the familiar objects that she has “hacked” electronically and/or manually (the Magic-8 ball, a music box, and the stereoscopic View Master), Robinson reveals bits and pieces of the personal – her body, her loves, and her travels as recorded over the past few weeks prior to this exhibition.

Whether relating to the exhibition’s theme as a point of departure or exploration, the artists featured remind us of the immeasurable value and the enormous potential for discovery that resides in "play”.

Ariel Shanberg, 2005



mit Meredith Allen, Sian Bonnell, Doug Holden, William Laven, Mary Magsamen & Stephan Hillerbrand, Olivia Robinson, and Alessandra Sanguinetti