Visual Arts

Dumbballs everywhere—fist-sized spheres of concrete rolled across the floor, reminiscent of a masons’ snowball fight. A bright cabinet painted tomato red, sunny yellow, and berry blue; inside, a rock sundae in a crystal cup. A room: one side filled to the top with piles and piles of wood, the other side, a box of plaster angels. On the first wall across the staircase hangs a larger-than-life photograph of a man sitting on top of a charging rhinoceros, arms spread out towards the sky and a winning smile on his face. Meet David Ireland and come into his world, where things are just “the way things are.” Last Friday the Addison Art Gallery hosted an opening reception where visitors could enjoy the newly arrived David Ireland Exhibit, “The Way Things Are,” and a gallery talk about his works presented by Karen Tsujimoto, Senior Curator at the Oakland Museum of California. David Ireland made his mark as an artist in the field of conceptual installation art, a contemporary style defying traditional ideas of beauty, with his earlier works such as “The Sound of Melting Ice,” where he covered an enormous chunk of ice with bubble wrap. With a history in architecture, construction, insurance, and travel, Ireland draws inspiration from his years in Africa, as well as the Zen thinking of Asian cultures. The infamous “dumbballs” illustrate the Zen consciousness Ireland often refers to in his work. A dumbball, a ball of concrete and gravel, symbolizes Ireland’s belief that art is non-hierarchal, that it does not necessarily come from experts alone. This ball is “dumb” because anyone, from child to genius, can toss concrete from hand to hand for 14 hours and create a perfectly natural round shape as long as they maintain an alert awareness. Tsujimoto, in her gallery talk, said that Ireland considers “the process [of making art] as important as the actual product.” Ireland also abides by the saying “dust is also Buddha” and finds and brings significance to the oddest objects. One sculpture, “Elephant Stool With Shade,” a pyramid of aging moldy lumps of yellow “excrement” on a stool covered with a shade, illustrates Ireland’s fondness for playing with words and his desire to challenge the value system of America. He said that this system looks down upon “stool” despite the value Africans place on it (represented by the shade). One Addison curator, Rachel Schiller, exclaimed, that “within these simple objects …[Ireland] does make you see things differently!” He does this again with his “Debris Pile,” which is just a nine-foot tall pile of wood planks and various other pieces of trash. Confronted with such normally unattractive and undesirable objects, the audience is forced to see how “things change based on context,” according the Tsujimoto, and how “we have to think and judge garbage as art.” In the section of his exhibit entitled “Curiosity as Sculpture,” many were drawn to the interesting piece “Three Attempts to Understand Van Gogh’s Ear Through Africa.” Several spectators chuckled at the absurdity of the sculpture. Tsujimoto, who was acting as a tour guide, stressed Ireland’s fluid thought process, how his interpretations of his own work never stay the same. Like a true artist of his kind, he leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether what they saw was art or not. Of course Ireland not only works with concrete, dirt, and wood as mediums, but with sound as well. In homage to John Cage, one of the first to exalt what was then “the radical notion of everyday sound as music,” he had one piece in which open cans of blue paint are dumped into a box. Ireland intended the resulting clatter to “shock [the viewer] into the moment.” Many were disappointed when they were told that they could not hear the cans. “It’s a shame we can’t experience [his piece fully],” commented Instructor of Music Emily Lewis. Towards the end of the exhibit, “Pan’s Pocket” stood out. This “pocket” was the space created between one of the museum’s walls, and another one curving outwards. The effect was stunning. Upon walking into the “pocket,” one had the intimate sensation of walking deeper and deeper into the unknown. Ireland certainly produced a truly breathtaking experience, bringing one through a physical and physiological journey. At the end of the tour, Schiller confided that she knew the event was a success: “I loved hearing [Tsujimoto] speak…she did a great job of hitting it full circle…I think people seemed very engaged… [there’s an] atmosphere of satisfaction… and fun!” The Ireland exhibit will be in the Addison until the end of the term, so do not miss it.