The main gallery of the Schweinfurth Art Center looks like a children’s playground, filled with an enormous connected sculpture made of brightly colored, interlocking boxes and tubes. Arrows point up and down, long tubes connect different poles at floor level and head level, and a large arrow points into a huge design affixed to a wall.
Artist Abraham Ferraro, from Albany, fits a couple pieces together, then walks back to the gallery entrance to assess the installation’s flow. “I have only so many pieces, and I want to work the piece this way,” he said, gesturing to a far corner of the gallery.
Ferraro’s installation, called “Directions,” is the centerpiece of the Schweinfurth Art Center’s summer exhibition, “Made and Remade: Re-Imagining Industrial Systems.” The show, which features artwork by Ferraro, Sherri Lynn Wood, and Landon Perkins, opens with a reception 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 24, 2019, at the art center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn.
Three artists. Three views of industrial systems and how they impact our lives. Ferraro’s sculptures establishes a playful map of the postal system that echoes the consumer-driven culture of online shopping. Wood poses a “possible vision and model for life after system collapse.” Perkins speaks of “hollow narratives within post-industrial landscapes.” Each perspective takes on the serious subjects of obsolescence and consumer culture with a playful sense of humor.
Ferraro began making “Directions” eight years ago, when the U.S. Postal Service was considering closing post offices and ending Saturday delivery. “Much of this conversation revolved around a lack of need due to the use of e-mail, and I really wanted to thank the U.S. Postal system for working so hard for centuries to deliver our mail,” he said. “I imagine my irregularly shaped colorful pieces traveling through a sea of plain brown boxes and hope it brightens the postal workers’ days.”
With every installation, Ferraro makes between five and 10 new pieces that he mails to the gallery. Once the pieces arrive, he covers the mailing labels with clear tape, and that information becomes part of the installation. Visitors can trace the artwork’s journey by reading the mailing labels.
Some of the pieces are already labeled for the Schweinfurth, as they were installed there in 2012 as part of that year’s “Made in NY” exhibition. His piece won the Best in Show Award, encouraging him to continue expanding the installation.
Sherri Lynn Wood’s artwork is from her “Afterlife” series, which was created during a highly competitive four-month residency at Recology San Francisco, a resource recovery company that operates in California, Washington, and Oregon. During the residency, Wood, who lives in Cincinnati, OH, made art entirely from materials scavenged from the Public Disposal and Recycle Area.
“This body of work emerged from a commitment, or framework, to make-do, as a way to free myself from the spell of limitless choice,” Wood said. “By choosing to work within recognized limits, the act of creating became more fluid, surprisingly synchronistic, and restorative. I discovered that ‘making do’ is not only about solving a problem with what’s at hand, it also fostered within me a collaborative and receptive rhythm of attention marked by acceptance, and respect for how things are, with room for what showed up, including mistakes, and deviations from any or all previous plans.”
Making art with recycled materials has a long tradition in quilt making, Wood notes. “The experience at the dump has changed my relationship to materials and my consumption habits,” she said. “Practicing ‘making do’ as a model for living has opened me up to being more receptive and collaborative in my art-making process and in my life.”
She encourages both quilt makers and non-quilt makers to make quilts and other objects from the discarded materials of everyday life. “I hope folks will be inspired to try this process on their own through making quilts, fixing things, solving problems, and creating other practices in their life out of what is given, without the need to consume or just go out and buy,” Wood said.
Perkins’ work comes from his “Structure” series of screenprints of imaginary systems that represent his rationale and outlook on the way people choose to live in today’s post-industrial environments. “These prints often show a dichotomy in the machinery or materials with their intended actions,” said the former Auburn resident who just moved to Bentonville, AR. “From the outside, the objects appear colorful and bright, but their potential actions are either not functional, in the process of failure, or potentially self-destructive.”
For example, “Structure No. 34” represents Perkins’ experience working a traditional 9-t0-5 job. “The systems of labor much of this country operates on is outdated, and I view these outside forces tugging on the tree as metaphors of those,” he said. “We need to talk about and implement new ways to view work in post-industrial societies. Work is no longer just about showing up to some random building and being on time to pay the bills. Meaningful work is much more than that and, without it, we will all probably be torn apart in our personal lives, much like this tree.”
He hopes people who view his work will challenge themselves by questioning their motives in everyday life. “My whole life I feel I have been bred to live a thoughtless life through blind faith in our established systems and material consumption in order to be happy, and through my experiences, I have known the hollowness in that way of living,” Perkins said.
“I want people to avoid settling for complacency; that's what art challenges me to do constantly,” Perkins continued. “While it is unpredictable and scary to be outside of our comfort zone, constant reassessment and challenging ourselves can lead to the defining moments of our lives that make us grow as individuals, and I hope my works can began to echo that through their illustrations.”
As Ferraro installs his work, he finds a piece that has been damaged -- not by the postal system. He uses a scavenged cardboard tube to fix it, and continues to install. He grabs his clear tape dispenser and tapes another set of pieces together so they don’t droop on their way to a large sunburst hanging on a wall.
So far, in the eight years Ferraro has built “Directions,” he has used 34,868 feet or 6.6 miles of clear packing tape. That’s one-tenth of the distance to low Earth orbit, the height of nearly 20 One World Trade Centers stacked on top of each other, or nearly the distance from Auburn to Skaneateles, NY. That’s a lot of tape to be used just a few inches at a time.
What: “Made and Remade: Re-Imagining Industrial Systems”
Who: Artists Abraham Ferraro, Sherri Lynn Wood, and Landon Perkins
Where: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn
When: May 24 to Aug. 18, 2019
Opening: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 24. Opening reception is free to attend.
Cost: Admission to exhibit is $7 for adults; members and children 12 and under are free.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
Also showing: “Presence of Silence,” an exhibit of drawings by artist Kathleen Farrell
TOP: Artist Abraham Ferraro's "Directions" fills most of the main gallery at the Schweinfurth Art Center.
SECOND IMAGE: Ferraro installs a starburst on the wall of the Schweinfurth Art Center.
THIRD PHOTO: Artist Sherri Lynn Wood used materials discarded at the San Francisco dump to make pieces in her "Afterlife" series.
BOTTOM PHOTO: This screenprint from artist Landon Perkins' "Structure" series represents his experience working a traditional 9-to-5 job.