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[REVIEW] Opening night of "Beacons" at UICA

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To see the exhibit...

The free exhibit runs through Feb. 13 with the following gallery hours:

  • Sunday: Noon–7 PM
  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday - Saturday: Noon–10 PM
“Nervous Structure” by Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza

“Nervous Structure” by Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza

A portrait by Briana Trudell

A portrait by Briana Trudell

After days and nights of monotonous snow and slush, West Michiganders are ushered to the light that is “Beacons: An Exhibition of Luminous Art,” now showing at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. The show is full of beauty and stillness with a visual chill replicated by 33 artists. Showcasing film and video projections, light installations, sound installations, images and objects, the UICA’s ultimate goal is to reawaken the public’s embrace of winter.

The exhibit’s technical setting of modern white wall barriers divide the area into what feels like three separate galleries along with a smaller digital video room. Overall the theme of luminous artwork is apparent, yet the network between each shares no connection. Many of the pieces do not focus entirely on light, but rather, the medium is used as an afterthought to justify its association within “Beacons.”

A diverse mix of people attended the opening reception Friday night where hors d’oeurves, beer and wine, plus flickering jelly rings and glow sticks were made available. Musical artists such as Dido and Sarah McLachlan played over the speakers mixed with a modern techno beat. The house lights were off, allowing the pieces to stand out according to their own brilliance. “Beacons” successfully transformed the interior of the 100-year old building into a hip winter scene.

Due to the lack of visual artist’s statements, however, the intended purpose of the individual presentations are not clear. In The Huffington Post, Daniel Grant’s article “Are “Artists’ Statements” Really Necessary?” questions if art actually speaks for itself or if background interpretation is needed. 

“Certainly, there are occasional instances when an artist statement is, not only helpful to the artist but, important in itself,” Grant wrote.

Although a map is provided on an isolated stand with each work titled and numbered, knowledge of its presence was blocked by the entering observers. An audio guide accompanies multiple listings yet between the crowd, music and possibility of a cellular phone left home, this feature is inconvenient. For the opening night only, an eventual 15-minute gallery talk with four of the artists gave way to a more informed production.

Several artists' pieces resonated with the audience, obvious from the steady crowd surrounding their work. These pieces being “Nervous Structure” and “Portrait 8,” Portrait 3” and “Portrait 1.”

“Nervous Structure,” by Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza from Detroit, MI, is an interactive installation. The dialogue between virtual and real space is created by a video camera that reads movement and feeds the data into a computer, consequently projecting light onto elastic chords threaded into the adjacent walls. The viewer’s participation acts as the primary foundation for this communication.

“Portrait 8,” “Portrait 3” and “Portrait 1” by Briana Trudell, a local photographer, mirror the reflection of her compositional preference. In the ongoing series, she explores the idea of portraiture that results in an autobiographical narrative of the photographer, not the subjects in the images. The subject believes he is in control of the shoot, and Trudell creates the illusion arranged effectively and respectfully on film.

Despite the lack of instruction, each feature is a singular yet multiple celebratory bonfire to one of the last events in this UICA building.

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Art is notorious for leaving interpretation up to the viewer (sometimes to a fault), but not to have any framework other than the title made the show seem incohesive to me. I'm generally not into artist statements, but the common thread was hard to find. Guesses, anyone, as to why they forwent artist statements?

We didn't include artist statements because we thought the environment would be too dark. Guests are able to listen to the artists talk about their work through our audio guide system. UICA uses this mainstream interpretive tool to help engage and educate the public.

33 year old building? Actually the Sheldon Street structure celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, built in 1911 as the city's first Ford dealership. 

We have made the change and contacted the reporter. Thanks.