Axis Architecture + Interiors, "Julia M. Carson Transit Center"

Axis Architecture + Interiors, Julia M. Carson Transit Center. Photo by Anne Laker.

Axis Architecture + Interiors, Julia M. Carson Transit Center. Photo by Anne Laker.

Axis Architecture + Interiors, Julia M. Carson Transit Center. Photo by Anne Laker.

Axis Architecture + Interiors, Julia M. Carson Transit Center. Photo by Anne Laker.

Downtown Indy’s built environment changes hourly, it seems. Each new development expresses and reflects our desire for a hipper, and, well, more citified self-image. Our cityscape is always subject to history’s iterations. What moods and alchemies are created when newer buildings rise into conversation with older buildings? Can we predict the personalities and popularity of these new buildings 50 years from now?

The newest Indianapolis architectural gesture is the $27 million Julia M. Carson Transit Center on Washington Street between Alabama and Delaware. In contrast to the swank residential towers ascending each day, the Transit Center seems like the first new building in a long time meant for truly public use.

With the goal of “adding dignity to the public transit experience” (as described by IndyGo spokesperson Lauren Day), the building, designed by local firm Axis, is flooded with healthy light. Its hue—the springy, saucy shade of KLM Royal Dutch airline flight attendant uniforms—competes with the sky for blueness. High ceilings draw the spirit upward, and the building’s swooping lid evokes a vaulting.

Michael Bricker of People for Urban Progress observed that the Transit Center is “nonchalant without being indifferent.” He noted how it has a freshening effect on the City-County building. We both noticed the Marion County Jail, the Transit Center’s southern neighbor. (Cell blocks 2-2-N and 3-3-N are visible from the bus bay area. (I wonder if some of those incarcerated there can see the bays, and what they might think).

The revelation here is that the 30,000 riders likely to pass through the Center each day will now have a designed experience of going. Previously invisible people hanging out on street corners are now placed. The nearly transparent Transit Center will add transparency to what it means to ride: to surrender control of a car (or to accept having no choice but the bus); to learn how to wait well; to participate fully in the commons. What was once a slovenly experience—as a bus rider, I can testify—just got a lot prettier. Can a well-designed building alter individual and civic self-images?

Yes, but the results are often unpredictable. The Transit Center building is small in relation to the two-acre site. How much humanity will huddle there in winter? Will the free wifi and public restrooms be able to accommodate the crush of bus riders who will bring their energies, needs and anxieties to the space? Will the touch-screen info boards and water bottle filler (drinking fountains are apparently passé) mean something to the riders? Once upon a time, the now graceless and angry Greyhound Bus/Amtrak terminal might have been exciting.

Stewart Brand wrote in his 1995 book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, that “trust, intimacy, intense use, and time are what made [beloved, long-lived buildings] work so well.”

The Transit Center’s noble function is to shelter Indy’s nomads for short bursts of time. Will its style—mod, crisp, perky, a bit dainty—struggle to keep pace with that big responsibility? Is it a lovable building? Seems so. Can it be trusted? Let’s find out.

 

Axis Architecture + Interiors, "Julia M. Carson Transit Center,” Washington & Delaware Streets, opened June 26, 2016.

Art + Space, "The Future Past"

Michael Milano, installation view of Central State Awning. Photo courtesy Art + Space.

Colin Tuis Nesbit, installation view of Melancholy Hates Haste. Photo courtesy Art + Space.

Megumi Shauna Arai, performance view of To Understand All is to Forgive All. Photo courtesy Art + Space.

There is a certain irony in the fact that when I saw “The Future Past” much of the show, which was performance-based and happened at the opening, had passed. I saw what was left—visual works and the remains of the performances. Staged in a one-time cafeteria and another-time carpentry shop on the historic campus of the Central State Hospital, a former mental health facility, “The Future Past” engages what remains of the history of the building. Perhaps it is because of this context that the remains were all the more poignant, and the visual works spoke even more quietly about the place that surrounds them and what happened there.

I’ll pause on this phrase—“what happened there”—and consider it in light of brief speech by Harry in T. S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion:

All that I could hope to make you understand / Is only events: not what has happened. / And people to whom nothing has ever happened / Cannot understand the unimportance of events.

The remarkable thing about “The Future Past” is that the work that remained created a palpable sense that something had happened, both in the history of the building and at the opening itself. The difference between this and the week’s event—the hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500—couldn’t be more striking. It is surely foolish to try to make a case for the unimportance of the event in light of what happened: but this is the proper job of the critic (a job which Harry, quite sensibly, refused to attempt).

I don’t want to discount the performances or the larger program of the show: it’s an impressive exhibition that includes many of Indianapolis’ most serious artists. But for the purposes of this review I want to focus on the specifically un-eventful character of a number of the works with an eye toward distinguishing a sense of something that happens from the news-feed of events that usually populates our days.

Michael Milano’s Central State Awning is something of a readymade. A found awning armature that was cleaned up and powder-coated is set on the ground at a slight angle to a bank of windows through which flooded a cool, diffuse light (as I saw the work—the light changes throughout the day to include direct sunset-light, as shown in the image). While I am in general ill-disposed to readymades, this one was something special: the angular bars that would support the awning fabric and the utilitarian supports and braces reinforcing its wedge shape create an impressively dynamic formal array, which, when placed in proximity to the windows, is utterly transformed.

By some alchemy that I don’t fully understand, that sculpture became the light coming through the windows for me. The light, though diffuse, seemed solid that day—and if I were to reach for a simile I would say that the light was like white stone. And the strange thing about Milano’s sculpture is that it captured and held that stone light—catching it at just the right angle as it floated through the windows and supporting it with just the right number of braces necessary for such heavy light. Central State Awning, as I saw it in that room, at that time, had nothing to do with an awning, but everything to do with light, space, time and the feeling of standing in that room. I say this is un-eventful because light is so rarely an event: but it is something that happens. And anyone who has stood in an empty room with light flooding through the windows, and has seen the light for what it is—light—has let it be in the difficulty of what it is to be—will know exactly what I am talking about.

Colin Tuis Nesbit’s Melancholy Hates Haste was a performance involving resident ghosts, reading from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, a chair, a table, and an inch-wide outline of a room drawn in salt. While I was not there for the performance, it was almost uncanny the way that the salt room, chair and book implied a presence not wholly identifiable: again, it gave the sense that something had happened there—and not just a particular performance. In this case I think that the arrangement of the chair and table, the provocative selection of the book, and the salt drawing (which is a physical record of the act of outlining a space) all reflect the attentive use of the space, marking it off with human action and attention (ghosts or no ghosts). The air was thick around this work—thick like I heard a painting professor describe the space in Byzantine paintings. I attribute the thickness I am talking about to the salt drawing: we imagine borders rising vertically from the salt line, filling up the air with implied but visually real objects. Again (and especially without the performance), there is no event here, but the presence that the setup conjures implies that something has happened, even if the particulars are obscured from view.

These weren’t the only works that opened up this territory: Megumi Shauna Arai’s performance left behind two piles and a meticulously constructed square of dirt that filled the space with the fragrance of earth; Carissa Carman’s installation and performance included a square of sod, meticulously trimmed with a comb and scissors neatly laid next to the grass; No Exit Performance left a row of tulle screens used for projections that also created a kind of hanging haze in the space. There is more that I could talk about, of course, but these works managed to activate the space with slight remnants of human activity that tenderly acknowledged the history of the place and testify in a quiet, unmoving way about something that has happened. The record here is in the physical objects: traces of directed activity that is all the more realized because it is no longer happening.

The site-specific pop-up show is well-worn territory by now, and by comparison to a work like Kara Walker’s 35-foot tall sugar-encrusted A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby, Nesbit’s inch-wide salt line, for instance, hardly registers a vibration in either conceptual punch or material execution. But A Subtlety was the art event of the summer—130,000 visitors—and if there is something to be said for “The Future Past,” it is that something happened here, no matter how many people were there to see it.

 

 

 

"ON FIVE.SIX," curated by Kelsey Blacklock and Alexis Nunnelly

Installation view of Colin Tuis Nesbit's Shivers down my spineI was lyin’ every timePhoto by Brie Stoltzfus.

Kelsey Blacklock and Nathan Foxton with Aktas + Argot by Foxton and Jack Hockmeyer. Photo by Brie Stoltzfus.

Part of the pop-up show’s draw lies in something being discovered, or stumbled upon. This sense was only heightened when I was introduced to “ON FIVE. SIX” after its open hours, when Kelsey Blacklock, the show’s co-curator along with Alexis Nunnelly, was just closing things down.

As I talked with Blacklock and Nathan Foxton (whose work is included in the show) about ON FIVE. SIX’s creation, it became clear that the show arose out of the creative community Blacklock has become a part of as a painting BFA student at Herron. Showcasing local artists she knows and admires, it engages that same community. Of the four artists involved, Blacklock knew three (Michelle Given, Emily Stergar, and Colin Tuis Nesbit) through Herron, and even though she did not know him previously, Foxton also has a connection with Herron as a professor there.

There’s a flexibility and accessibility to the pop-up show that’s conducive to creative dialogue and improvisation; because of its ability (and perhaps proclivity) to emerge out of a preexisting creative community, the capability for dialogue is only increased by that fact. Blacklock put it this way: “The pop-up show is definitely a growing phenomenon among recent graduates. I think we’re all hoping to redefine Indianapolis’ art scene as one of valid, exciting contemporary art- but mostly we’re just doing whatever we want.”  An organic platform for artistic communities to showcase their art and collaborate, it is interesting to note that the two pop-ups in May are artist-led. This strikes me as a particular merit of the pop-up, as artists are more likely to push boundaries and possess a proclivity for recognizing quality art.

It is clear that the pieces were selected in part because they complemented the space, which was comprised of two rooms with high ceilings and concrete flooring. Shivers down my spine, I was lyin’ every time by Colin Tuis Nesbit, Moving On by Michelle Given, Cloud Matrix by Emily Stergar, and four pieces by Nathan Foxton, Fluorescence, Dark Horse, Working Drawing, as well as a collaborative piece with Jack Hockemeyer called Aktas + Argot bring out the potential of a large, dark space on their respective mediums. Given’s piece, which primarily involved watching a projected film, was benefitted by the movie-theater proportions and darkness of the room, heightening one’s attention to the piece. Nesbit’s two fifteen foot purple light poles emanated a florescent glow into dark space surrounding them. The expansiveness and darkness of the space created a sort of privacy that allowed for a less self-conscious engagement with these larger-than-life pieces.

I’ve already noted the flexibility and community-oriented aspects of ON FIVE. SIX. Of course, Blacklock’s choosing pieces based on their interaction with the space, rather than their synthesis of ideas, is potentially limiting. Also potentially limiting is a show participated in by artists who already know each other. However, in this case I think it’s more likely that the pop-up show is an apt medium for the type of engagement artists of Blacklock’s age, along with the other recent graduates she mentioned partaking in this phenomena, are having with Indianapolis’ developing art scene: experimenting, getting work “out there,” utilizing the social capabilities of a pop-up show to highlight and bring people to buildings and areas of the city that may have otherwise been ignored. The Southeast Neighborhood Development Association, SEND, lent the Wheeler Arts Center space for the show and “gave no limitations on what the show could be or what changes could be made to the space.”

It is perhaps worth noting that this is one of a number of recent pop-up shows in Indianapolis this month. It is perhaps worth asking whether the pop-up phenomenon is part of a positive dynamic in a developing art scene or it is just another system that Indianapolis is still very much a city with very little space permanently dedicated to art.

   

Kristy Hughes, "Seeing is Forgetting"

Kristy Hughes, Like Christmas, 2016, Monotype, acrylic and fomage on paper, 41 x 41 inches. Images courtesy of the artist.

Kristy Hughes, They Raised her Ugly, 2015, acrylic and spray paint on paper, 48 x 72 inches.

Kristy Hughes, Between Precision, 2015, monotype and collage, 60 x 96 inches.

Kristy Hughes, Installation view of Everything Stays the Same and Everything Chagnes.

Contained chaos, one of Kristy Hughes’ stated ambitions for her work, abounded at the First Friday opening of her “Seeing is Forgetting” at Gallery 924, as the crowded gallery interacted with the many sweeps and turns within her work. Upon returning to the show a second time, I stood in the gallery by myself, feeling a stronger sense of that contained chaos within each and every piece in the show.

I had the pleasure of taking a printmaking class from Hughes in spring of 2015 at Butler University. When I first saw Hughes’ work that semester, I was struck by the number of layers and the level of detail in her work. At the time, the work was primarily, if not exclusively, black, gray, and white. “Seeing is Forgetting” is full of color, but retains the intense detail and layering that initially attracted me to the work.

The show features mostly large monotypes, but a few miniature square pieces are sprinkled throughout. These miniature pieces serve as a point of control in the show. The edges of the paper on these pieces are precisely cut, and each image stretches to the edges of the page, all of which sits in a perfect frame. Many of the large-scale prints in the show are also contained within a precise frame, within which colors and movement meet in a centralized and condensed point before sweeping out to the edges of the canvas and swirling in different directions, as if to break free. Although these paintings feature sweeping lines that want to explore the edges of the page, they are once again confined within a perfect frame. The frames serve to literally contain and display the chaos on the page: although abstract, the chaotic image retains a balance and movement that makes sense to the viewer.

The strongest works in the show are the unframed large-scale prints. Mounted on the wall atop wooden forms, the torn and frayed edges of each page frame the work. Like ChristmasThey Raised Her Ugly, and Between Precision have sweeping waves of color along with sharp slashes made by an X-acto knife and geometric forms collaged into place. This blend of free flowing color, geometric precision, and torn paper edges creates a sense of chaos that reaches to the edge of the canvas and into the gallery. The energy of the print creeps to the frays of the page and beyond.

Everything Stays the same and Everything Changes is literally a pile of colorful paper scraps from all of Hughes’ prints displayed on a pedestal at the center of the gallery. Similarly to the unframed pieces, this three dimensional piece displays Hughes’ concept perfectly. The viewer sees colorful torn up pieces that Hughes literally picked up off her studio floor. The many colors, sizes, and torn edges creates a sense of chaos to the piece, but its presentation on a pure white pedestal creates a frame of sorts, grounding the chaos and showing its importance.

Despite the emphasis on the chaotic, the pieces create an energy that feels intentional and confident. The colors Hughes uses, in addition to the balance she finds in each abstract print, lend urgency to each and every slash and pasted piece on top of each print. Hughes uses layers of cuts, collage, and color to make sense of the many elements she uses to create one cohesive image. Similarly, the viewer brings all of their own layers and chaos with them into the gallery. We hold within us many layers full of different colors and shapes, and somehow we are able to make sense of these things as we live our daily lives. Just as Hughes finds balance within her work as she experiments, the experience of looking at the images also leads to a kind of balance, within the frame of the gallery, with curiosity leading from one work to the next.

Kristy Hughes, "Seeing is Forgetting," Gallery 924, 924 N. Pennsylvania, Gallery Hours: M-F 9-5, Th 9-6. May 6-27, 2016.