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Form in Motion 

Finding relief (and 3D) at Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts

The prick of memory brings back all things. Such phrasing and subject as Samuel Beckett might offer us. Being Irish, we share an interest in the music of memory. That's what I was "hearing" at A.R.C.H.E.S. (Architecture. Relief. Constructions. Habitats. Environments. Sculpture), open now through Aug. 31 at the old Kaiser Frazer building in Palmer Lake. Even the space itself -- nearly a century old -- has architectural memories, if you will: once car restoration facility, once shelter for feral cats and dogs, once worm breeding farm ...

Juried by Rodney Wood and Sean O'Meallie, A.R.C.H.E.S. speaks to viewers about the ripeness of form, even when the forms are "empty," as in Jacek Nowacki's series of 15 pieces, constructed from willow and hemp twine. This witty work, entitled "Sheep," might represent a collective, suburban memory of Americans (as sheep), embodied in "little [pink] houses for you and me." Nowacki's open-structured "house" forms sit tidily on their sod foundations, conjoining Don Judd's minimalist mindset with Andy Goldsworthy's aesthetic of the outdoors.

This show offers viewers a profusion of enticing forms: obelisks, arches, bridges, cones, doorways, canopies, boxes.

A.R.C.H.E.S. as acronym is both clear and cryptic. It functions, like the form of the arch itself, in several capacities. An arch is a structural (architectural) object, simultaneously joining likenesses while calling attention to itself as that difference which bridges. Laurel Swab's monumental piece, "Conforming to Patriarchy," embodies this precisely. It is an arch. It even connects the spaces of the Main Gallery and the Community Gallery (where Lee Manning's poetic black and white photographs currently hang).

Swab's arch is graceful and polemical, calling attention to the contortions of the human -- yes, female -- form to bridge the steely Doric columns that signify institutional -- yes, patriarchal -- power. Her arch is a woman's body. The twin columns are (perforce) phallic. But "patriarchy" is no longer the 1970s rubric of a necessarily simplified feminism. Rather, in this millennial moment, Swab's construction of patriarchy symbolizes edifices that we bridge and build daily, through our human, and often feminine, efforts. Laurel Swab's human forms have long intrigued me. In this work, her wrapped "mummies" are unfurled, unleashed, and performing feats of feminist gymnastics that triumph while they contort.

The works in A.R.C.H.E.S. are forms, but they are also spaces. Look closely at the seemingly flattest works, like Leo Franco's wonderful box construction, "Self Portrait." He pairs El Lissitzky with Joseph Cornell to create a Constructivist piece with expressionist possibilities. Robert Le Donne gives us blueprints and maquettes for extraterrestrial two- to three-person ("long term") habitats in his fantastic "Lunar Art Studio." I like the combination of dream and practicum that Le Donne offers us: a "home" (even if it is on the moon!) where artists have space and time to produce. Le Donne is a master recycler as well -- his habitats aren't the digital hallucinations of today's corporate Hollywood; they're made of recyclia: electronic components, PVC tubing, and eggcrate foam, among other materials. All of it memorabilia. If the future isn't made from junk we can remember, what hope is there for the species?

Jacquelyn Harp's three full-size door collages are cities of people, some strangers, some we've met before (including Picasso's Blue Period octogenarian guitarist). One door collage, "Urban Angels," opens into a world filled with the frenzy of contemporary popular culture: advertising, the entertainment industry, fashion, etc. To me these doors speak of the quintessential city experience: we are in the thick of it and we have to look at it -- whether we want to or not. Harp's doors, like the big city say: "Take our diversity, as well as our crime -- or leave." In "Urban Angels," she collages black and white forearms handcuffed together -- shared victims (or inseparable "criminals" in a racist society?). Look closely at these seven-foot collages and you will discover some of the unimaginable truths juxtaposition offers -- the entire (meta) purpose of collage from my standpoint.

Jina Pierce's small ceramic forms are cones of all shapes and sizes (you definitely want to pick them up and cradle them in your palms). In "Conundrum," the cones colonize red ceramic shelves, like so many friendly fungi. Pierce's "Polar Wanderer" is an installation of cones that occupy the webby corners of the Main Gallery, embedded like happy germ families in the Center's corroding concrete walls. They congregate and party like the gallery goers at Tri-Lakes' openings do (who, by the way, come from far and near).

The sculpture that took first place is Michael Howell's "Einstein's Cabana," a fascinating piece in wood, paint and glass. Howell's piece thinks hard about forms and their interrelations, but his architectural art is elegant and understated. For this work, Howell inserts a clear glass sphere in a "floor" of wood, inches above a tiny "basement" of sand, capped with a peaked "roof" over it. Howell's obelisk-like structures in both his "A Change in Dreams" and "In the Land of Ghosts," are postmodern buildings with surrealist purposes: vacant white chairs converse, a rope dangles as escape or entrance to a tiny tower window. We are disturbed and fascinated by these forms.

The possibility of installation art -- work that occupies a space such as Pierce's cones discussed above, or "Plato's Cave," a draped and womblike structure by artists Pat Garland and Pam Chadick -- is one of the strengths of the Tri-Lakes Center. Indeed, Gail Bez has a large installation work in the Studio Artist's Gallery, adjacent to the Main Gallery. Her "House of Fire" is a multimedia piece that offers viewers literally and figuratively a retreat. Not only can we reflect about architecture and the exquisite form of the cypress (both/neither male and female form), but, if we care to, about the significance of life's difficult choices, including how we use our time, how we treat the earth, even how we might acquire knowledge beyond our five senses.

The art at A.R.C.H.E.S. can be entered -- and studied. "Bridge Form I," Sean O'Meallie's sculpture of paired open and closed forms serves as bookend for my beginnings about memory. This sculpture encourages us to understand and enjoy the materiality of a solid, green "U" -- but we must also deal with the more threatening, open "U" that arcs above. The upper twin is constructed of sharp, possibly dangerous, wire. The prick of memory embodied by form can be painful. But the freedom that embraces openness is worth it.

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