We live our time on Earth, and future generations remember us by what we leave behind. Ancient Rome left us mounds of olive-oil pots, says artist Dmitri Obergfell, and now we manufacture hundreds of thousands of aluminum cans that are buried in dumps, waiting to be discovered again as artifacts in some future millennium. Obergfell riffs off this and other ideas, through visual markers from antiquity and the use of symbolically loaded modern materials, for Man Is a Bubble and Time Is a Place, a solo show opening March 23 at Gildar Gallery.
Man Is a Bubble picks up where Obergfell’s 2014 show at Gildar, Yinfinity , left off, beginning with his continued use of the iridescent, color-changing shades of Chameleon automotive paint, lending a magical sheen to his ideas. The works are visual stories about time, space, and how we travel through both, leaving clues about our existence along the way.
“It’s a big, lofty idea I have about time and human experience: the idea of humanity passing the torch of experience. There’s something captivating about that to me,” Obergfell says. “But it’s hard to talk about these things without sounding corny in a way.” That very corniness, however, is what keeps us wide-eyed as viewers.
Obergfell’s fascination for these big themes runs deep, influenced by temporal stretches and the backwards archaeology of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Future,” which addresses how civilizations overtake and eclipse one another. He makes classical references using such ready-made modern architectural materials as polystyrene, which is now molded to ape “Greco-Roman things like columns and the capitals on columns, generally already made out of foam, giving it a fake quality,” he notes.
But the material’s indestructability is also fascinating. “Polystyrene lasts forever,” Obergfell explains. “There’s no organic breakdown process; its chemical nature causes it to be preserved forever. I like that idea of suspension of time.” We take what we want from the past and mold it to shape the future, he intimates; there’s something preternatural about that exchange.
Other pieces are painted on corrugated steel, a material Obergfell says is “interesting on a lesser note: Denver has a lot of it, so I was consciously inspired by my hate of it. But it works well with the Chameleon paint on the fluctuating surface and nicely reflects the metaphorical space-time motif,” he continues. Obergfell also incorporates cutout figures and symbologies that cross time and cultures, making a connection between ancient cave drawings and modern wall writing.
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“These symbols are a way to compensate for the fact that human life is short within this time frame,” he adds. But they also offer interdimensional insights — a wavy hand undulating through space, for instance — that leave viewers with a strange feeling of being caught in a time warp. “This is universal language and how I interpret it,” says Obergfell, inviting us all on a simultaneous, thoughtful and possibly out-of-body trip through the best and the worst of all eras.
Man Is a Bubble and Time Is a Place opens with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 23, and runs through May 6 at Gildar Gallery. Learn more online or call 303-993-4474. Obergfell’s installation Federal Fashion Mart is also currently on view through October 22 at the Denver Art Museum as part of the group exhibit Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place.