Art Review

Review: The Arvada Center's Unbound: Five Installations moves, sparkles and shines

Last month I reviewed Unbound: Sculpture in the Field, an over-the-top outdoor exhibit for which the prairie land south of the Arvada Center has been turned into an informal sculpture garden. Using newly cast concrete pads, exhibition manager Collin Parson and assistant curator Kristin Bueb oversaw the placement of sculptures by fifteen contemporary Colorado sculptors ranging from members of the old guard, exemplified by Robert Mangold, to young, still-emerging artists such as David Mazza.

Though Sculpture in the Field is the most high-profile exhibit at the Arvada Center right now -- if only because it's visible from Wadsworth -- it's just one of a series of four shows there this summer that employs the umbrella title of "Unbound." This time around, I'll discuss one of those other exhibits, Unbound: Five Installations.

See also: Review: The Arvada Center takes a leap outside with Unbound: Sculpture in the Field

To mount this ambitious show, Parson and Bueb invited five noted Colorado artists, each of whom specializes in creating all-encompassing environments, to fill separate galleries on the lower level of the venue.

The first is "Forming Light Installation," by Sophia Dixon Dillo. The piece is virtually invisible, as Dillo's material is transparent nylon filament with a slight blue tint that can only be perceived when viewers are within the piece, not just looking in from the entrance to the space. Using conveyor-belt hooks attached to the wall, Dillo and her crew stretched miles (literally) of the filament into an arrangement of parallel lines. As you walk through, the lines of filament create canted diagonal "walls" that lead the viewer to the back of the piece. It's really ethereal.

This otherworldly quality contrasts with the conceptual references to domesticity in Rian Kerrane's "Knitting Wallpaper." When you consider how much work it took to mount this piece, your head will spin. On the walls, Kerrane has applied metallic rickrack in a simple classical pattern. In front of the walls, hanging from the ceiling and thus creating barriers that envelop an open space in the center, are hundreds if not thousands of strings of obsolete analog recording tape. It's as though it's raining tape.

Attached to some of the strings of tapes are various found objects including hair dryers, mixers and other handheld appliances, as well as knitting needles. The small appliances start and stop, creating distinctive sounds as the viewers' movements and presence trip invisible activators that turn them on. In addition to this interactive sound, there's also a soundtrack of clicking knitting needles that runs constantly in the background. The whole thing is very captivating, and both the domestic theme of knitting and the presence of home appliances add some subtle feminist content.

In the adjacent atrium gallery is "Entropic Order," by Laleh Mehran, a piece that is extremely complex yet has a simple appearance. On the floor in the center of the space, Mehran has placed a large, low metal box that is open on top. It's filled to the brim with black sand that's been raked so the surface is flat, making it look something like a rug.

Mounted high above, near the ceiling, is a steel armature with a plumb-bob-shaped weight that's been suspended by a cord so that the very bottom of it hangs just slightly below the surface of the sand, making a mark. Using a computer controller and responding to the presence of viewers, the weight is dragged through the sand to create vaguely geometric patterns. It takes a week for the entire surface of the sandbox to be completely covered with the sgraffito designs, at which point it is re-raked flat and the whole process starts over. It's hypnotic to watch, and you can't miss the way it apes a Persian rug as it nears completion of a cycle. (It turns out that Mehran is originally from Iran.)

Beyond are the paired galleries in the back. In the first of these spaces is "Enrapture: My Microscopic Life-cycle," by Nicole Banowetz. The room is filled with gigantic abstract sculptural elements whose forms have been inspired by microscopic life. The shapes aren't meant to refer directly to actual organisms, however, but to Banowetz's interpretation of them. These elements have been fabricated using a thin vinyl fabric, the kind of material used to make beach balls or pool toys. They are mostly white, though in some places there are "windows" in clear acrylic sheeting.

Probably the most remarkable feature of "Enrapture" is the fact that these pieces are inflated, just like beach balls, with the captured air inside them being used to hold them up and in their specific places. Those entering are immediately surrounded by the whooshing and buzzing sound of the air compressors that are necessary to pull the whole thing off. The subtle palette of the white and clear against the neutral-colored walls is an elegant touch, even if there's a certain kind of goofiness to the shapes Banowetz conjures up. I loved it.

The last of the five installations, "Drosscapes," by Katie Caron, is in the other back space, and it's hard to imagine anything more different from the adjacent Banowetz piece. Caron, who debuted "Drosscapes" at Hinterland in 2012, has created a dark underground world, with the ceiling standing in for the earth's surface. We know this because in the middle of the room are the roots of a tree, complete with the bottom of its trunk extending down from the ceiling and coming to below eye level. The roots, painted in neon shades and dramatically lighted, have been made using extruded insulation foam that Caron has formed into tendrils and attached to the bottom of the tree trunk.

The entire thing seems to float over a pseudo-reflecting pool made from sheets of mirror-finish Mylar, with the pool's rocky shore made out of that same spray insulation foam painted a dark, muddy color. Caron has supplemented this with three wall-hung sculptures that look like portholes through which imaginary natural environments are visible.

Unbound: Five Installations closes in just a few weeks, as do the other two shows inside: Unbound: Digital Creations, which includes imaginative pieces using gaming and animation technologies by Chris Coleman and Michael Salter, Milton Croissant III, Bryan Leister and Alex McLeod; and Unbound: Altered Environments, featuring photos and videos by Christina Battle, Justin Beard, Christine Buchsbaum, Sonja Hinrichsen, Patrick Loehr and Loretta Young-Gautier. Unbound: Sculpture in the Field, meanwhile, will stay up until this time next year.

Denver has held two biennials, and the third is set for next summer. Maybe the organizers should call up Parson and Bueb and ask them how to do it, because this four-part summer feature in Arvada blows away anything from last year's biennial.

Unbound: Five Installations, Digital Creations and Altered Environments, through August 31 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 303-898-7200,