Wonderful World

Sandy Skoglund's installation "Breathing Glass" is a thing of shimmering beauty.

Its meticulously hung yet precarious blue-glass panels quiver in a sixteen-square-foot space, embedded with a grid of hundreds of glass dragonflies intermingled with mini-marshmallows that fall like snowflakes amid the sparkling insects. An intricate glass mosaic glitters on the floor; upside-down figures float weightlessly through the work's open space.

It takes a complex thinker to create such a moment of breathtaking chaos, and Skoglund is that: Her works -- from her famous 1980 installation/photo "Radioactive Cats," which features a pack of acid-green felines scavenging in a gray landscape, to the jellybean-studded 1998 environment of "Shimmering Madness" -- represent spontaneous, unexpected moments tied up in months of painstaking planning. Skoglund's installations can be seen as metaphors for modern life, which unfurls according to no plan, yet is governed by forces both primal and societal.

Denverites will get lessons in the fine art of floating through life's space -- both as viewers and participants -- beginning Friday, when Sandy Skoglund: Breathing Glass and Other Works opens at the Metro State Center for Visual Arts. In conjunction with the exhibit, the New York artist will be in town to oversee a pair of installation workshops: "Radiance," in which Metro State art students will arrange multiple loaves of fuchsia-painted bread stabbed with yellow pipe cleaners; and "Clear Chaos," an indescribable waterfall of clear plastic wrap, found objects and color to be installed by pre-selected gallery patrons.

"The workshops are about a single idea rather than a complex structure that evolves over time," Skoglund says, alluding to her own complicated artistic scenarios. "They're more like a radical action in the tradition of happenings of the '60s, where Claes Oldenburg would invite his friends to perform in nondirected ways in his store or studio, looking for some kind of experience not handed down to them by the culture. Art," she adds, "is about exploring the unknown. It's an adventure."

With that in mind, Skoglund is psyched. Not only will the workshops unfold in unexpected ways, but they will function as research for her future works. "Clear Chaos," she notes, has been done once before, at the Hunter Museum in Tennessee, but in a whole new environment with different participants, it won't lessen that sense of adventure one iota. The concept behind it, she says, is simple: "Let's see what happens if we take thousands of yards of clear plastic wrap and use it in new ways not prescripted by culture." And at Metro's CVA, it begins with a hazy, color-soaked idea. "In Denver, the gallery will be painted red so that color will leak through the clear wrap," Skoglund explains. "And I look forward to seeing that come together: the red color emanating through the slippery, sleek surface laid on top, all crushed up. Once we've done that, we're going to do experimental photography within the work."

True to Skoglund form, photography will also play a part in "Radiance," a completely new, untried idea of the artist's that seeks to plunge workshop participants into a primal process symbolized by interaction between the ancient staff of life and a childhood craft. After students paint and stab the loaves of bread, they'll be photographed in their own playground of an installation amid vibrating, contrasting colors.

Like "Breathing Glass" itself, it will be an exercise in walking through doors of perception. And who knows what they'll find on the other side?

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd