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Cal Poly faculty exhibits their art 

Spoken dictionary meets perfume factory in Cal Poly faculty exhibit

click to enlarge WHITE NOISE :  Brian Priest speaks every word in the dictionary at the same time. - PHOTO BY JEFF VAN KLEECK
  • PHOTO BY JEFF VAN KLEECK
  • WHITE NOISE : Brian Priest speaks every word in the dictionary at the same time.
The faculty exhibition at Cal Poly’s University Art Gallery smells like a perfume ad, sounds like either a passing wave or Laotian crickets, and alternately has the feel of a wildlife preserve, aquarium, and standard art gallery. A few faculty members cite the possibility of another olfactory experience as well—bullshit. That is to say, they suspect that not all of the pieces are exactly what they claim to be. The intrigue, of course, makes the show, open through Oct. 31, all the more interesting.

 

The Laotian crickets, at least, are easily explained. Tera Galanti, Assistant Professor of Studio Art, and Robert Howell, Professor of Photography and Digital Imagery, collaborated on a multi-part exhibit titled “Wild.” The centerpiece of their installation is a small curtain-entrance booth at the rear of the gallery. Motion sensors detect entry into the space and trigger a projection of an opossum on the wall opposite the viewer. The Virginia opossum, Olive, is a ward of Pacific Wildlife in Morro Bay, and used as an educational resource. From the wall she sniffs along the ground, sometimes stopping to nibble a promising bite. It all looks very natural, except that according to Howell Olive’s initial response to being placed in the studio was to sit completely still. But once Howell had placed peanut butter bites across the floor, Olive got moving.

 

In the background Laotian crickets and frogs chirp, setting an exotic nighttime atmosphere for the suburban American marsupial’s nocturnal exploits. Galanti acquired the sounds this summer, on a trip to Asia, using a parabolic microphone she and Howell devised for her trip. The bowl of the device is green so as not to frighten animals, and the exterior is faux leopard print; in a bid to make herself look less like a spy, Galanti decided to silly the microphone up.

 

Outside the booth, the microphone is on display, along with a Dell computer screen with what looks like a simple photograph of the Los Osos oak forest. Click the left or right side of the screen and the image rotates, a full 360 degrees in all. Inside the environment, “Tiger Woods,” Howell hid nine tigers, a none-too-subtle reminder that, in nature, you never quite know what might be watching.

 

click to enlarge PEANUT BUTTER TIME :  Olive, a Virginia opossum, has a cameo in the faculty exhibit. - PHOTO BY JEFF VAN KLEECK
  • PHOTO BY JEFF VAN KLEECK
  • PEANUT BUTTER TIME : Olive, a Virginia opossum, has a cameo in the faculty exhibit.
The duo had been collaborating artistically for a decade before they stumbled upon their joint affinity for animals. Their current installation will likely expand in the future, becoming increasingly interactive with the possibility of having the animal retreat as the viewer draws closer, a reminder about human impact and nature’s fragility.

 

The perfume scent, also, isn’t too difficult to discern, emanating from a sequined edict: “Inhale.”

 

“I love words and language,” said Charmaine Martinez, the Assistant Professor of Graphic Design responsible for the piece. “I wanted a word that had a lot of different connotations … Inhale, it’s kind of beyond smell or sniff. It’s to breathe something in deeply.”

 

She first began to work with the perfume-scented ads in graduate school. Preoccupied with questions of fashion and identity, she pored through fashion magazines and began removing those particular ads—via a pair of scissors that remained in her purse at all times—wherever she found them. Friends and family members fed the addiction. Then, one day, she decided to use the perfume ads to make a flower installation, layering artificiality and imitation. She created a stylized petal pattern and maximized her flowers’ olfactory capabilities by constructing them right before an exhibit.

 

 But for the first time, for the faculty exhibit, Martinez decided instead to work with scented letters. Spelling out “Inhale,” Martinez adorned each letter in alternating rows of pearlescent sequins and scented circular tabs. The result might not be the sort of piece someone would expect from a graphic designer, a concept that Martinez doesn’t necessarily view as a bad thing.

 

- FACULTY, FACILITY:  The Cal Poly University Art Gallery Faculty Exhibition runs through Oct. 31 with an opening reception on Oct. 8. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. -
  • FACULTY, FACILITY: The Cal Poly University Art Gallery Faculty Exhibition runs through Oct. 31 with an opening reception on Oct. 8. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I think all graphic designers need to get off the computer from time to time,” she said. “Sometimes you have to force yourself to get a little dirty.” For her own students, Martinez says she encourages experimentation in various mediums; in grad school she was a studio art major.

 

As for that other scent, a little more subjective in nature, some faculty members wonder whether newcomer Brian Priest’s piece, “Every word in the dictionary said at the same time” is exactly what he says it is. According to Priest, the piece was inspired by his grandfather’s unfinished opus, a thesaurus that he spent 20 years of his life compiling.

 

“It took me about three years but I recorded myself saying every word in the dictionary,” explained Priest. He then layered the sound recordings, creating a finished product that is 2.6 seconds long.

 

“It’s kind of the most anti-climactic work of art ever,” admitted Priest, somewhat proudly. “A lot of people don’t believe that I actually did it.”

 

Priest insists that he knew fairly early on what the completed piece would sound like; slip on the headphones at the gallery and after a few seconds of silence an even briefer interlude of white noise advances and then recedes. He didn’t have to complete the entire alphabet to produce this effect. A few letters would have sufficed.

 

click to enlarge UNDER THE SEA :  Glass work by George Jercich is among the works on display at the University Art Gallery. - PHOTO BY JEFF VAN KLEECK
  • PHOTO BY JEFF VAN KLEECK
  • UNDER THE SEA : Glass work by George Jercich is among the works on display at the University Art Gallery.
A second video is based on a brief trip from Indiana to California, in which Priest left LAX, took a bus to the beach, selected a grain of sand, returned to the airport, and flew back to Indiana. While at the Santa Monica pier he videotaped a ferris wheel, unmoving but with flashing lights. Back at the airport he also captured an interaction between a new age healer and traveler sitting together frozen, as though holding a ball of energy.

 

“It doesn’t have this great meaning. It’s a poetic assemblage of images,” said Priest. As a matter of policy, Priest only shows each work once, citing his belief that exhibiting a piece one year after it was made is pushing the definition of contemporary art. While uncertain what his tenure will be—Priest was hired as a visiting lecturer and currently teaches sculpture, ceramics, and art theory—the artist plans to expand the degree of his collaboration, not just with other artists but also potentially within any field or discipline.

 

But for the remainder of October, Priest’s work consists of a video, headphones, and the dictionary he bought at a dollar store. This is what he makes in his spare time, or at least, that was the premise for work contributed by the teacher artists. So much for the old adage about those who can’t do.

 

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach can neither teach nor do, so she writes. Send condolences to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

 

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