DPMT7: Looking In and Looking Out
A passerby might look through the windows of the Weston Art Gallery, see the scaffolding and steel structures, and assume that they are undergoing some sort of construction. A closer look reveals this scaffolding is holding up a hollow cylindrical platform and a set of stairs. Six different videos are projected on the walls of the platform, forcing the viewer towards the middle of the installation to take everything in. The aforementioned set of stairs leads up to a dead end, only allowing a bird’s-eye view of the platform below. There are several other objects at play within this scaffolding structure. A wooden tower is placed where the stairs dead end, and a long quilted rope form drapes off of the side. While none of these materials are similar in nature, they are all reminiscent of the same thing: the urban landscape.
The urban landscape is a theme that DPMT7, a Cincinnati-based architecture/design collective, works with frequently. However, Un Teatro Del Nuovo (Italian for “The Theatre of the New”) is one of their first exhibits to experiment within the walls of a gallery. Members of this collective include Ryan Ball, Kory Beighle, Sean Cottengim, Vincent Sansalone, Nicholas Germann, Whitney Hamaker, and Joseph Kinzelman. Though most of their previous work revolved around designing outdoor spaces, (in fields, in cities, in shipping containers,) this exhibit, is an investigation into the ways in which the outside and the inside collide and exist with each other.
The scaffolding and cylindrical structure, titled “Cyclorama,” is located on the street-level gallery of the Weston. Above the stairs that descend to the lower-level galleries is “Crevalcore, Italy, Scale Model,” a proposal the team designed for renovating the city of Crevalcore, Italy, which was devastated by an earthquake. The eccentric and playful nature of DPMT7’s model is a good representation of the work that follows in the lower gallery, but its position next to a fully executed 30-foot steel structure serves as a reminder of possibility.
Projected on the wall of the lower entryway is what appears to be a live feed of a bird’s-eyes view of “Cyclorama.” This emphasis on looking and being looked at is reminiscent of the vulnerability of being in a city: walking below the hundreds of windows on skyscrapers reminds one of the ability to see out but not in. Next to the projection is a scale model of the entire exhibit, complete with small mock-ups of each individual sculpture, and a large steel pipe that appears to have descended from the scaffolding of the upper level gallery into the scale model, further emphasizing the work’s cyclical nature. In the same room on a different wall is a collage-like mural overlapped by an orange block of text that reads as a poetic artist statement or even a call to action.
Several pedestals with more scale models of potential projects, (all involving similar scaffolding and cylindrical forms,) stand in the first gallery of the lower level. Along the walls are collages and drawings inspired by international cityscapes and monuments as well as a portrait of Frida Kahlo. There is also an audio element, which seems to echo the footsteps and creaks that already exist in the gallery. In a gallery talk with the artists, they reveal that these noises were actually recorded in the area surrounding their studio—again, narrowing the barrier between the outside and the inside.
The west gallery underwent significant transformation for this exhibition: the floor is lifted up on wood planks, the middle of which was hollowed out and filled with black, rolled up felt. The dropped tiled ceiling appears to be missing several squares, and two abstract paintings hang on opposite sides of the gallery—their dull, washed-out colors calling more attention to the spaces between them, than to the objects themselves.
On the wall between each painting are several photographs of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. These photos seem to be an anomaly, because they are neither collaged nor sculpted and they provide a very human element to what—up to this point—has been a completely material-based installation. When this issue was brought up in a recent gallery talk with the artists, coordinator of DPMT7 Vincent Sansalone, explained that these images were a part of his creative inspiration as he had lived in Latin America for many years.
This cultural muse perhaps becomes more evident in the graveyard-like east gallery, where 24 columns, each two feet wide and eight feet tall, stand three feet apart from each other. Each column is composed with a different material and structure while maintaining its monolithic, gravestone-like status. Most fascinating is a column that contains what could be thousands of photo slides, encased in glass between two columns of MDF (Medium-density fibreboard; a material primarily used in building). Gallery lighting allows the viewer to see glimpses of images on the slides as they move around the structure, echoing this similar feeling of looking and being looked at.
Other columns feature wooden planks stacked on each other like a giant game of Jenga, steel rods tied together with string, entangled wooden ladders, and a cylindrical column of bricks. Among these is a column with a steel gnome figure facing a painting on the wall. The painting looks like a traditional landscape, except for a white geometric shape that is placed where a barn or a house may have been. These columns are fun and witty and interesting, but they also feel dystopic and haunting.
In the back left corner of the gallery are six stools arranged around a sheet of MDF that appears to have a hole in it. A closer look reveals a hidden camera behind the sheet, reaffirming that strange Orwellian feeling.
When asked at the gallery talk if there was any one thing to be taken away from this show, Sansalone replied ambiguously, saying, “it’s the question not the answer.” Perhaps this is why the show is so successful: there are no overt conceptual tones to imply that there is any deeper meaning. The materials are familiar and accessible, but allow for room to imagine the potential of scale. This familiarity also calls to question the point in which these objects became a finished piece; their place in a gallery begs the viewer to consider the “Aha” moment of their construction. The limited manipulation of the materials themselves narrows the barrier that exists between the outside world and the walls of a gallery, and it calls attention to features of the urban landscape that might otherwise be ignored.
As a sculpture student, it was fascinating to see the way in which the scale and material of an object can transform the nature of the room and simultaneously instill wonder, anxiety, and humor.
Un Teatro del Nuovo will be on display at The Weston Art Gallery until August 30th, 2017.
Written by Audrey Patterson.