In the late '90s, Dorothy Heller donated 34 acres of Heller Ranch to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, to be used as a center for arts and humanities. Today, however, most of its buildings still sit empty, and the garden landscapes show the wear of countless meandering feet.
Held hostage by administrative arguments and 10-year plans, the property makes the perfect backdrop for a site-specific art installation in Mind the Gap: Noticing the Unnoticed, presented by the Gallery of Contemporary Art at UCCS.
Also in the late '90s, three artists joined to investigate the relationship between specific places and broader world views. Iranian Rene Gabri, Austrian Heimo Lattner and Massachusetts native Erin McGonigle invited native New Yorkers on an audio tour of New York City, where they had mapped unseen places and in-between spaces with recorded narratives embedded in the architectural landscape.
These three artists, known collectively as e-Xplo, are planning to take Springs residents on a similar audio-based walking tour of the unseen and unnoticed at Heller Ranch. This will be one of the last times visitors will have the opportunity see the ranch before historic preservation of the buildings and grounds finally commences in fall 2009.
"Every site is a site of contemplation," says Gabri. "We are inviting people to think by creating a contemplative situation addressing America at this moment, and by reflecting on the changes brought over the last 20 years."
Seeing the unseen
Curated under the critical eye of former gallery director Christopher Lynn (now coordinated by interim director Caitlin Green), Mind the Gap deconstructs the concept of negative space.
"The concept grew out of a class I taught at Ohio State," recalls Lynn, speaking from Cleveland. "I was trying to find a way to get bored students to learn about real and recorded time using visual terms."
In art, the empty space around and between subjects in an image defines negative space. In a painting, negative space can be the background landscape in a portrait or the empty space surrounding a sculpture. Conversely, the figure in the portrait and the sculpture are seen as positive space - or the focal point of the artwork. This key artistic element is also present in architectural design to create balance and in music as a pause or silence in a piece.
Negative space is intended to stay in the background or to go unnoticed at a conscious level. Indeed, it defines positive space by allowing the eye to rest during perusal of a piece. Mind the Gap extends the idea of negative space into the realm of time-based art with walking tours, videos and film clips.
"By drawing the focus to the positives between areas in action and the pauses between notes and words, we learn how to pay attention to that negative space," says Lynn. "The concept also expands geographically and politically by revealing the things that are downplayed and left in the background."
These silences are revealed in two video exhibits by Doron Solomons, a video artist from Tel Aviv. "My Collected Silences" includes short outtakes from TV news on a day of remembrance for the victims of Shoah (Hebrew for the Holocaust). Solomon's video shows various reactions to a state-ordained minute of silence. The evocation of inarticulate grief, embarrassment and bewilderment reveals the collective consciousness of Israel without a single spoken word.
In a companion piece, "Tonight's Headlines," Solomon strings together clips of silent news anchors looking at an empty screen while images of the actual news footage are being broadcast. The juxtaposition of dramatic emotion in one video with expressionless silence in the other spans culture and race with a contemplative look at modern-day politics.
John Pilson's work takes an alternative look at the socio-political landscape with images from his book Interregna, meaning "between the kings" or "between the reigns." Black-and-white photos capture images of working nights and weekends at an investment bank. Stripped of its purpose during these downtimes, the bank and its night shift defy the efficiency of the corporate environment.
Adding a guerilla feel, conceptual artist Sarah Ross shows negative space through strangely formed "archisuits," allowing wearers unique access to specific architectural structures in Los Angeles. By including the forms of the structures' negative space, the wearer is able "to fit into, or onto" structures designed to deny them. Videos and photos of the suits in action identify the negative space.
Form and function
Not all of the artists displaying their work at Mind the Gap use video and film. Jared Clark and Jennifer Danos are creating site-specific gallery pieces for the exhibit.
Jared finds, and fills, gaps in architecture and landscaping. In past shows, he has plugged an open doorway with washing machines and put bars of soap in cracks left by missing bricks in a deteriorating wall.
"By pointing our attention to things we wouldn't normally notice, he calls attention to the economic and social gaps taking place below the surface," says Lynn.
Danos' work emphasizes small aberrations in architecture. For instance, the light boot print left behind by a construction worker becomes memorialized with a gold leaf image mimicking the original.
"My sculptural interventions exploit the human instinct to simplify and filter experience," says Danos. "A person enters a space and intuitively chooses which details to interact with or neglect.
"I want to engage the conscious and subconscious nature of observation," she adds, "to encourage individuals to actively see each space by questioning the constructed intentions of the space and reconsidering habits and definitions."