Lauren Hillebrandt, "Tourism 1," digital print.

By: Maxwell Redder

“Museum Gallery / Gallery Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio. 104 degrees; a new record: Saturday, July the seventh of twenty-twelve.”

The fathers of existentialism often explored the concepts of being ‘thrown into existence.’  The fact that we neither asked for, nor gave permission to enter this universe as a conscious being, presents more challenging thoughts than there are sperms fighting to impregnate an egg.  However in the context of this article, I act as the stand-in God and am able to choose which metaphorical sperm I wish to break through and develop throughout the life of these words.

It is exciting that one of, if not, the spatially smallest gallery flourishing in Cincinnati, Museum Gallery / Gallery Museum (MG/GM), would choose to explore such an inexplicable and unexplainable topic: the universe.  I was skeptical if such a small space, packed with the work of twenty-one different artists, would be able to take on a topic of that magnitude.  It is after all, the universe.

The current exhibition is titled, The History of the Universe Part One: in the Beginning.  Once In the Beginning has been uninstalled, The History of the Universe Part Two will go up.  It will address the Universe in its final stages.

MG/GM’s conceptual humor is worthy of applaud.  A unique, though ambiguously nonchalant attitude about the universe permeates through much of the artwork displayed.

I am skeptical, however, about how some works fit in to the exhibit’s title, although those works still fit perfectly into the nonchalant humor presented.  A good example is, Lauren Hillebrandt’s Tourism 2, which displays a roll of toilet paper extending past the sky and into the unknown.  It seems appropriate to view the universe which holds our existence with such light-hearted humor.

When talking about the universe it is appropriate to explore all aspects.  To name some examples: one, each atom of our physical body has been or will be part of another existing thing.  Two, philosophically speaking as far as we as individuals know, the universe started when we were conceived.  Three, the ‘universe’ is being heavily criticized by physicists and theorists all around the world as an old idea in midst of the ever growing belief that we live in a ‘multi-verse’ which weaves our existence in and out of blankets of universes.  Therefore, a light-hearted take on the universe is nothing but appropriate.

Another example of that attitude is Chris Collins’ interactive videogame titled, TOWWWW.  Four game controllers, along with a display screen, rest invitingly upon a pedestal.  Each controller moved a “colored-character” which, is a different colored ball on the screen that was followed by a line as it was directed.  Each of the four balls are connected and try to reach their own individual base to gain a point.  The psychedelic field of colored lines left behind paints an eerie and simplified rendering similar to an exploding star.  It is a subtle and amusing exploration of the beginning of the universe, atoms interacting and fighting for the most successful positions.

In the Beginning was not all laughs, though.  Many pieces explored deeper questions, such as the ones mentioned above.  Two in particular are most thought-provoking and aesthetically appealing.

First, I’ll mention Elise Thompson’s, Mind is the One Ultimate Reality.  Different grays and grayed out colors confined to their various shapes create an eerie facial profile encompassed in a halo of gold leaf.  The strong chin and nose shapes create power and a strong attitude. Dancing through what I consider to be hair, gold leaf seems to spark in the back of the brain, creating an ultimate reality: a new idea.  Thompson’s “deconstructive and ambiguous” figure is arguably the most brilliantly composed in color and interesting balance.

Another worthy mention is Britni Bicknaver’s, Yes.  A circular chain of lips face inward towards each other.  The circular shape is a classic display of forever; of universe.  Displaying a circle of lips, Yes, presents a stripped-bare narrative of the beginning of the universe, and, aesthetically gorgeous.  All the lips face inward.

Making a loop around the gallery, I ended up last at Reid Radcliffe’s, Q and A with God, a performance based piece, which is the most successful display of art in this exhibit.  My experience of Q and A with God, may have been accidental.  When I walked in, a man dressed in an off-white sports jacket and blue tinted glasses said, “Hi, I’m the stand-in God for Reid Radcliffe.”  I cannot assume that the stand-in God was lying; after all he was imitating the Almighty.

I cannot assume that the man standing-in was not planned; it seemed to be done on a whim.  I asked the stand-in God imitator a few irrelevant questions and had a conversation.  Q and A with God , proved a fantastic title and concept which was executed in a pitifully and sorrow-filled room.  During my visit with the stand-in God, there was cotton fluff acting as clouds, above some shop lights that were not turned on.  I found the shoddy environment perfect.  The only thing missing was a midget grunting and smoking a cigar.

The idea of a stand-in God has stuck with me now for several days after the opening.  I found it unique that the only place to get a drink on that record breaking hot day, in a gallery with no air movement or air conditioning, was in the room with the stand-in God.  Perhaps I was delusional from the heat like Camus’ The Stranger, and perhaps I caught Q and A with God at a unique moment, but I couldn’t help but connect a stand-in God with the beer cooler and how many people seem to allow beer and drink to be a stand-in God.

Thankfully, Cincinnati has MG/GM to present unique and positive exhibitions of local and national artists.  In the Beginning had artworks that are relevant and positive for the city.  I look forward to attending The History of the Universe Part Two. I’m hoping the end of the universe presents more challenges than the beginning.


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