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Artists embrace chaos of ever-changing exhibit

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Joshua Ratliff, left, and Brooke Hawkins prepare the exhibit for modifications. Starting at the end of September, a different pair of artists brought their own materials to modify the gallery space.
Joshua Ratliff, left, and Brooke Hawkins prepare the exhibit for modifications. Starting at the end of September, a different pair of artists brought their own materials to modify the gallery space. PHOTO BY KELLY WILSON

After nearly two months of evolution, the “Exquisite Corpse” exhibit at the Indiana University Center for Art and Design is nearly complete.

Or as complete as it can be, given the nature of the beast.

“There really isn’t a set vision for the piece,” said graphic designer Jon Earley, one of the participating artists.

The project is the brainchild of IUCA+D director Kelly Wilson, who envisioned a large-scale art installation that would incorporate contributions from an array of creative types from different segments of the community.

For eight weeks, starting at the end of September, when all of the artists participated in an initial installation, a different pair of contributors brought their own materials to modify the gallery space at IUCA+D. The only two rules were that they were to leave enough room for the human form to pass through, and nothing could be removed from the space.

The project comes to fruition Dec. 1 with an artists’ reception. Modern dancers will perform at the reception, providing an element of human movement to the piece.

The exhibit’s name refers to a practice surrealist artists sometimes used in which one artist would draw on a piece of paper, fold it in half to obscure part of the drawing, then pass it to another artist who would contribute to the drawing, and so on.

Each of the artists — a group that includes sculptors, fabric artists, musicians, architects and designers — brought with them materials, ranging from scrap fabric and lumber to metal duct work, deer fencing and even wild flowers. They then set to work erecting the bones of the exhibit without much discussion or planning.

The artists then paired up and came back in twos to help the exhibit evolve.

And because participants couldn’t guess what the previous pair might do to the piece, planning ahead was nearly impossible.

“It goes against all my artistic habits,” said Jane Matranga, a lecturer in fashion design at Indiana University, who said she primarily works alone and rarely spontaneously. “When you are dealing with fabric and permanent dye, you have to have a plan.”

As the weeks went on, the artists say they embraced the chaos and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute to a project that often dealt with a type of art outside their area of expertise.

Joshua Ratliff said he was always artistic growing up, but chose to focus more on music. Ratliff now works in corporate hospitality at Cummins, so his work involves the culinary arts.

But he jumped at the chance to exercise his visual arts muscles with “Exquisite Corpse.”

He and girlfriend Brooke Hawkins brought rolls of paper, scrap wood, coils of rope and other odds and ends from their garage to their workday.

“I really liked the idea of slowing the space down,” said Ratliff, who used scrap wood to make a series of small shelves. He then lined the shelves with odds and ends, such as playing cards and trinkets he had collected as a child.

The idea is that people will pause while going through the exhibit to take in the extra detail.

“That way there is more reward to your movement,” he said.

Hawkins instead focused on creating space for that movement. Though she studied architectural drafting in college and is employed by architect Louis Joyner, Hawkins said she doesn’t consider herself an artist.

“My skill set is in the execution, not necessarily the creative,” Hawkins said.

She used her eye for navigating a space to manipulate the floor plan by repositioning some of the larger pieces.

Sculptor David Rowe also became interested in the movement of the room. He focused his efforts on the creation of a structure that the dancers can move around and within during the artists’ reception.

“I wanted to think about how the space was going to be navigated,” Rowe said. “You can become lost in the space but still have direction.”

The artists hope the project and others like it provide direction for the arts community in Columbus as a whole.

Earley said he believes that a community’s appreciation for art operates on a “supply and demand” model and that once Columbus experiences collaborative projects such as this one, they will encourage more.

“That kind of energy gets shared and bounced around,” he said.

And while Columbus has a growing reputation as a destination for the arts, Ratliff said that more collaborations are essential to making the city’s tagline a reality.

“It’s not a permanent thing,” Ratliff said of Columbus’ growing reputation as an arts destination. “It will all just end if we don’t keep doing the next thing.”

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