Artist Interventions: An Experiment in Science, Space, and Photography

By Julia Einstein
Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning

This week’s Artist Interventions was designed by 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial: Piece Work artist Caleb Charland. On Friday, August 23, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., he’ll bring his science experiments in photography to the PMA.

The artist tests photographic materials—both traditional and unusual—and photographs his light and science demonstrations. This Intervention will be a preview of what visitors will see from Caleb’s work in the Biennial.

Caleb uses the computer screen as a telescope and his photographs of deep space are sourced from the Internet then printed, manipulated, and reproduced in large scale.

We met in the Maine College of Art (MECA) photography lab where Caleb is the current Media Technican & Artist-In-Residence to talk and to plan his upcoming Artist Intervention.

Tell us about your event on Friday.
I am interested in sharing a discovery. I was having a problem with a printer; it was not printing correctly. I tested out a DIY solution and placed the print head over a piece of paper towel soaked in an ammonia-based cleaner (Windex) and it worked to dissolve and clear the clogged ink. I was curious to see if this could have an influence on my printed images and I began a series of work where I dissolved images of deep space acquired from the Internet. The photograph I have in the Biennial is the result of months of these experiments.

In solving an everyday problem, you discovered something exciting.
Yes, and for the purpose of this Artist Intervention I wanted to invite visitors to the museum to assist in a live version of this process. Visitors will help create a unique work by applying my experimental solution to the surface of prints of various colors. And, there will be a video camera recording it all with a live feed to a high definition display monitor. As the colors dissolve and change and mix they will be displayed as a separate experience in the museum.

You choose a very specific location. Where? Why?
The event will take place in the Great Hall of the museum, in a place everyone passes by. Setting up within this high traffic area will attract participants. And, I’m hoping it will set us up for a possibly element of surprise as someone could watch the video and be surprised to discover it is being created right there, in the same space, and participate if they so desired.

I like that the audience participation is part of it. What are your expectations?
There is always an element of surprise in my practice, and I’ve learned that it is often the uncontrollable factors that really make a piece work.

Artist Interventions are made possible by the Peggy L. Osher Education Endowment at the Portland Museum of Art.

Media Sponsor: 94.9 WHOM

Mark’s Remarks: “Shangaa: Art of Tanzania”

In “Mark’s Remarks,” Portland Museum of Art Director Mark Bessire discusses all things PMA—from art in the galleries to his favorite treat in the PMA Café.

In this edition Mark highlights the stunning exhibition of Tanzanian art, Shangaa: Art of Tanzania, on view through August 25. Shangaa is the first major exhibition in the United States to focus on the traditional arts of Tanzania.

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“Shangaa” means “to amaze” in Swahili and that’s exactly what this exhibition does.

21st-Century Maker

By Julia Einstein
Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning

This month’s Artist Intervention was designed by 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial: Piece Work artist Crystal Cawley. On Friday, July 12 she will transform a museum space into an artist’s studio. Cawley’s work is about her love for material as she collects then manipulates books, postcards, buttons, maps, and fabric into three-dimensional sculpture. You may have seen her summer exhibit at the Center for Contemporary Art (CMCA) (on view through July 16!) as part of the exhibition, Dress Shop or in the May issue of Maine Home + Design. Here is a behind the scenes interview on her upcoming Artist Intervention.

Tell us about your Artist Intervention.
The things I make involve laborious—some would say tedious—processes like hand sewing, spinning thread, or some other method of putting things together that requires repetitive action. I will sew on a few pieces at the dining room table of the McLellan House, like my grandmother worked at the old dining table in her basement, where she made beautiful braided rugs out of outgrown worn wool clothing

What is your inspiration?
I start with something tangible. I enjoy responding to what’s already there, something with its own visual history that becomes an important part of what I make of it.

Why did you chosen the McLellan House as the location for your Artist Intervention?
When I visited the galleries to think about what I might do for this program, I wandered around noticing which spaces I felt most comfortable in and where I would enjoy being and working for a few hours. These included a few of the third floor galleries with Contemporary and Modern Art (there were some superb minimalist works to see there) and some of the rooms in the McLellan House (where I would be contentedly surrounded by sumptuous colors and opulent patterns). I decided on the house because the rooms there are more contained and quieter—I get a little worn out and distracted when there’s constant ambient sound as there is in large galleries made of stone and wood.

The Artist Interventions series is about interaction between visitors and art. What are your expectations for the evening?
I am curious about what might happen when visitors come into the dining room and see me embroidering something. Will anyone sit down and start a conversation or ask a question? I am open to talking with anyone who comes in, but I’ll keep sewing as we speak.

Artist Interventions: Crystal Cawley is on Friday, July 12 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. during PMA’s Free Friday evening.