Exhibit preview: “Of Body” is impressive and strikingly wild

From the April 10, 2014 edition

Those who attend the opening reception this Saturday (or the month-long exhibit) for “Of Body” at Second Sight Studio will be treated to some wild, non-traditional works of art. The assemblage of sculpture and installation pieces, along with a passive performance piece by Ruth Burke, presents interpretations of the body, both human and animal. Pieces are constructed from animal skulls, cow tongues, deer hides and even human hair.

Perhaps the best description is provided by Second Sight owner Mona Gazala in the press release for the exhibit: “Some of these body interpretations involve dissection (both socio-political and otherwise), evisceration and disarticulation.”

Basically, “Of Body” is a collection of artwork from four young artists (Burke, Chelsea Bornheim, Kade Conklin and Jessica Willis) that’s shocking in terms of aesthetic and concept, and introspective in terms of creation and meaning.

The four artists behind “Of Body” are either recent or upcoming graduates of Ohio State’s art program, and their work is embodied by a refreshing take on materials, ideology and expression. One of the main reasons for this is the personal nature each instills in the work.

“I like to look at a lot of my work as a self-portrait, in more of a tangible uprising of experiences, spiritually and through the human condition. I think we work intuitively, and I think that’s why there’s so much of ourselves in the work,” said Conklin during an interview last weekend at Second Sight Studio in Franklinton while the group installed its pieces.

Conklin’s two large, very animalistic sculptures may not seem to represent the human condition at first, but she’s expressing “our inner wild, this instinctual wild that we all have within us that we don’t allow out enough.”

Touch is a very important component to the work of all four artists. Bornheim always encourages people to touch her work, while purposefully designing it with a bizarre nature that might be slightly off-putting.

Bornheim’s two tongue-based works — a ceramic human tongue in a work with a double-entendre title (“Orifice”) and a bronze mold of a real cow tongue (“Specimen #1”) — are spectacular and strange.

“I’m really interested in more surreal art and the idea of beautifully grotesque things,” Bornheim said. “Things that are recognizable so you’re attracted to them and want to look closer, but then they’re really strange. [When] people tell me they want to touch my art it’s one of my favorite responses.”

Burke will present a passive performance from 5-7 p.m. during opening night by standing motionless with her arms extended and palms out, asking attendees to place their palms on hers. She’s studied the relationship of physical connection and feels our culture doesn’t embrace, well, personal embrace.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research into connection — I’ve traveled extensively and every other country I’ve gone to people are not afraid to touch each other when they first meet — and how in our society you don’t stand too close. There’s no physical touch,” Burke said. “Some people that are really close to me aren’t even taking part … so I know I’m on to something.”

Burke obviously urges touch, and you’re really going to want to feel “Staccato,” a deer hide pierced with more than 5,000 black toothpicks.

“The piece actually has a lot more depth to it, once you touch it. And my favorite part about it is the sound it makes when you get it moving,” said Burke of “Staccato,” which she plans to evolve into a kinetic sculpture using a roller mechanism.

One of the largest and most colorful pieces in “Of Body” is Willis’ “Golgi” piece. She spent 15 weeks weaving and braiding torn fabric with any number of found materials.

“I didn’t limit myself to color or material. I just brought everything in I could possibly shred and braid together. There’s anything from wire, a friend’s hair, some of Kade’s snake’s skin, electrical cords, a jump rope,” Willis said.

“Golgi” is a cornucopia of materials that Willis constructed extemporaneously, because that’s how she finds inspiration.

“I’m into the spontaneity of making … I’m more into just making it and it gets really crazy. Great things happen on accident,” Willis said. “Our work grows so organically that I wanted the ends of [‘Golgi’] to be orbs because it’s kind of like a neuron where connections happen in the brain.”

Connection is where the most exciting aspect of “Of Body” comes from. Seeing these works gives the viewer an instant, visceral reaction. But once you’ve taken a few moments to think about it, you discover exactly the connection and relationships the artist is intending; no matter how unusual.

Photos by Meghan Ralston