In 2007, the inaugural year of the Form + Content co-op gallery, members Jay Isenberg and Lynda Monick-Isenberg designed Dialogue on the Wall, an exhibition seeking to recreate the environment at the border between Israel and Palestine. They built a 10-foot-high concrete wall to split the room, with chain-link ceilings and video-installations and performance art on either side.
This gallery is a chameleon, ready to shift to the will of each of the 13 member artists’ distinct vision. Jil Evans merges abstract expressionism with references to the baroque styles of Dutch vanitas paintings. Kenneth Steinbach scrimshaws maps on ivory piano keys, and Howard Oransky makes sculptures of stone and glass with monoprints on transparent fabric. In 2009, Jay Isenberg led an exhibition tackling the housing crisis with contributions by architects, capitalists, landscape painters, photographers, scientists and educators.
For the current exhibition, Found Objects, Monick-Isenberg has invited Garth Rockcastle and Karen Wirth into the mix for a cohesive presentation of artworks that live at the intersection of culture and nature. Weaving industrial material into the fabric of organic forms, Rockcastle snuggles bundles of wire and steel wool into a bird’s nest. Alongside a lizard sculpted from soda can shrapnel, he places a kitschy wooden snake beneath a real snake’s shed skin. Rockcastle’s work recalls the romanticism of early 20th-century conservation efforts against industrial interventions into the organic cycles of the natural world.
Karen Wirth literally constructs language with obscure objects. She spells “The Measure of Time” with the repurposed curves and angles of scales, rulers, and protractors. An arrangement of strange, sometimes unidentifiable tools becomes “Thingamajig/bob;” sticks, antlers, and knives articulate “The Nature of Things.” There’s peace in the symmetry of form and content in Wirth’s art.
Monick-Isenberg’s Lamentations series (see above) heightens the exhibition’s sense of reverent wonder. She makes paper a mirror to nature by drawing beautiful life-scaled copies of forlorn flora and fauna: a dead crow and a downed woodpecker, frayed rope and fractured teeth, the leaf of an Indonesian fig tree and a solemn, unopened egg. Two of her drawings include a narrow rectangle of torn fabric, a traditional Jewish marker of the bereaved; Monick-Isenberg, a convert to the faith, has named her series in memory of the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem.
Taken together, Rockcastle, Wirth, and Monick-Isenberg have designed a space for welcoming, coherent conversation about the construction of culture at the expense of nature. Found Objects resonates as both funerary and celebratory. This is art presented as a gift, as a token of why we should care.
Related exhibition details:
Found Objects is on view at Form + Content gallery through August 3. For more information, gallery hours, and additional details about the contributing artists: http://www.formandcontent.org/index.htm
Nathan Young graduated from Macalester College and will attend the University of Chicago to study the intersections of art and economics. He owns one work of art. Find him on Twitter: @nrp_y
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