It sounds like a macabre reference to Halloween, but the ongoing “Exquisite Corpse” exhibit, taking shape weekly at Indiana University Center for Art and Design, is a breathing, evolving project meant to show the community that the arts are very much alive in Columbus.
“Columbus is talked about for its arts and its architecture,” said Ben Hill, graphic arts manager at The Republic and one of 18 collaborators in the exhibit. “But when people come here, they only see architecture. This is our way of showing the community that we are here.”
The spooky name refers to a technique developed by surrealists during the 1920s by which a collection of words, symbols or, in this case, materials are assembled to create an entirely new story, picture or display.
It’s based on a Victorian-era parlor game called Consequences, in which players take turns writing on a sheet of paper, folding the paper to conceal half the sentence and then passing it to the next player for further contribution.
The project began in September, when T. Kelly Wilson, director of IUCA+D, invited more than a dozen artists whose areas of expertise encompass architecture, fashion design, painting and graphic design, among others, to bring the materials of their choice to the IUCA+D gallery.
“The point is to give a place for the condensing of things that have been fragmented,” Wilson said. He refers not only to the objects used in the display but also to the artists themselves. All of the participants use art and design in their profession but rarely have the opportunity to collaborate.
Over six hours, the artists molded the lumber, scrap fabric, furniture, plastic cups, duct work and other materials into a three-dimensional sculpture that stretched floor to ceiling, corner to corner. The base formed the skeleton on which the artists must build — working in pairs or trios — week after week.
The artists can add to and modify the structure, but they cannot remove any of the materials. They also must allow space for the human form to pass around the display.
“This is about the journey,” Wilson said. “There is no final form we are trying to reach.”
The project will culminate with a reception Dec. 1, when an improvisational dance group under the direction of Elizabeth Limons Shea, director of the Indiana University Contemporary Dance Program, adds an element of movement to the exhibit.
While the exhibit was taking shape, so were partnerships that would inform the rest of the project. Wilson said that watching the partnerships form was a fascinating, democratic process.
“No one said anything, they just seemed to break into groups naturally,” Wilson said.
Hill partnered with Marleen Newman, an architect who lectures in the department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design at IU. Both were interested in working with metal pieces, and the pair capitalized on Newman’s experience with three-dimensional design and Hill’s expertise with composition for their installation.
“Getting along with a stranger on an art composition could be a little touchy, but we had a great time,” Newman said, adding that she and Hill hope to work together again.
Hill pointed out that while the artists involved work in creative fields, their work doesn’t always give them the latitude to explore their artistic boundaries.
“An athlete needs to have a space — a gym, maybe — to work out and hone the skills they have,” Hill said. “Artists are no different. He (Wilson) has provided us the space to exercise our talents.”
A big part of the exercise for artists is adapting to the changes in the exhibit week after week and accepting that their contributions will be built upon or modified in some way by the next installation.
“It really is a metaphor for life,” Wilson said. “Our destiny is in the hands of the next guy.”
If You Go
WHAT: “Exquisite Corpse” exhibit
WHERE: IUCA+D, 310 Jackson St.
WHEN: Gallery is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.
WHAT ELSE: An artists reception will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 1, featuring a performance from improvisational dancers under the instruction of Elizabeth Limons Shea, director of the IU Contemporary Dance Program.