'00 artists show bare essentials

by Holly Shaffer | 7/17/01 5:00am

Two Dartmouth Class of 2000 graduates -- Brad Siskin and Thomas Beale -- won the Perspectives on Design award, and as a result, their work is being exhibited in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery in the Hopkins Center until July 23.

The works of Brad Siskin and Thomas Beale are not at all the same -- Siskin's comments both cynically and profoundly on what we do with our emotions,and Beale's on altered organic forms.

But both are wonderful and deserve some interested eyes. The exhibit is curious, yet complementary because of the difference in style of the two artists.

Siskin's conceptual signs deal with written and visual language and how the stereotypes of both slither into the brain to be used, but not necessarily understood. While Thomas Beale's work is organic, with each form made of small cut pieces of found wood built up to create a solid but whimsically flowing object, it also deals with the concept of nature being taken apart and rebuilt again to invite multiple interpretations.

Two sets of signs, all made by a sign factory but conceived by Brad Siskin, line the walls of the gallery. One set is made of black rectangles screwed into the wall with white vinyl words stickered on. The signs are repetitive except for the one adjective that ends the beginning phrase "I am." I am happy. I am sad. I am ecstatic. I am restless. I am frustrated. They can be taken alone, or as one long sentence.

If the signs are read as a sentence, a visual map of the person reading or making (for after a while these become intensely personal works) them develops, and they become the full scope of a person. All of these words to describe feelings are as moshed as a person is simple. Each sentence contradicts another one if seen all at once.

Then the other signs are read, which are the opposite in color scheme: black vinyl stickers on white board screwed into the wall. Here cartoon faces define the words written beneath. Anxiety a furrowed brow and wiggly mouth. Stupidity a squinched face with big ears. Modesty a shyly smiling head turning away from us. These are familiar faces, received from a How-To Drawing book and we trust them because of their familiarity. We know these stereotypes, as Art Speigelman also acknowledged in his lecture on comic. Strong is a hefty chin (Mr. Clean), and wise a big forehead and spectacles. The cartoonist merely simplifies an emotion or action to be instantly recognizable and therefore stereotyped.

As Mr. Siskin pointed out, the signs are all white males -- perhaps not especially surprising considering their time and cultural location -- but also not especially noticeable because we are so used to these images.

Both sets of signs question how we speak and see. Siskin shows us that some emotions have been chewed up so much by others (artists included) and returned so that we don't even know the difference between told emotion and what is our own.

Thomas Beale's work steps in to add a little playfulness to the gallery, a romping ground for the imagination. He uses the same technique for all of the pieces. He glues personally designed puzzle pieces to form a shape that undulates as wood ought not do. But that is the trick of these, they play with size, function, and material.

The most obvious interplay is his piece "Deluge," a small object that looks like a branch, but upon closer inspection consists of small cut pieces to forming a branch. His "Singing Bowl," the largest object in the room, is a bowl when seen on tiptoe (if you're tall enough) but large like a pit.

At this point, seen in slices, the object can become anything, like the pit in James and the Giant Peach that rolls James around throughout the world. So goes all of the work.

Becoming a large spanning something, which can be an umbrella without support, a flying carpet, or my favorite, a la The Little Prince an elephant eaten by a snake. There seem to be stories attached to all of the pieces, or at least stories to be invented. The stories can be let free abundantly, which is an exciting mix when seen in conjunction with such a visual comment on language, society and emotion as Brad Siskin's.