The current installation in the Linfield Gallery is not your typical art show, if by “art show” one means paintings hanging on walls or statues on plinths. Instead, a collection of pod-shaped objects hover at about head height, arranged in a broad, flat cloud with two distinct layers.
This is the latest exhibition by sculptor Crystal Schenk.
“People would read about the magnets, but they would forget when they walked in,” Schenk said. “There was this air of mystery as they tried to figure out what’s holding the pods up, and then they would have this ‘aha’ moment as they figured it out.”
Crystal Schenk is a Portland artist with an impressive array of residencies, awards and national and international shows under her belt. She was one of 19 artists represented in the Oregon biennial, Portland 2010, and she was selected as one of the nation’s top 100 artists by New York City arts organization Artists Wanted.
“She’s extremely dedicated to what she does,” said Cris Moss, gallery director and instructional associate of Art and Visual Culture. “She’s very meticulous, and she puts an amazing amount of work and effort into it. She’s one of the people who is a true artist; it’s not just a hobby.”
Schenk said she draws inspiration primarily from familial memories, but also from nature, other art in galleries or publications, topics outside of art, such as science and cultural traditions, and from her students.
“Teaching is an important part of the practice for me, not separate from it,” she said.
Schenk received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999, and her MFA from Portland State University in 2007. She is an adjunct professor at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Portland State University.
Schenk said this is the second time she has put together this installation. The first was part of her thesis at Portland State University. Schenk said that as soon as she saw the Linfield Gallery, she knew this was the piece she wanted to show here.
“I knew I wanted a nice, large, clean space,” Schenk said. “It felt like a natural fit. It was large enough to expand—the first piece had 600 pods, and this one has 1,100—so in this space it could expand and change shape.”
Moss said it took about two weeks to install Schenk’s piece.
“All of the wire attachments are 25 feet up,” Moss said. “They had to be
perfectly aligned, with a one-inch gap between the magnets. It all had to be amazingly precise, but the exhibition wouldn’t be what it is without the amount of work that went into it.”
To expand the installation, Schenk had to make 500 new pods and cut each of the 1,100 wires, as the wires from the first exhibition had become tangled.
“Everything that had to be done, had to be done at least 550 times,” Schenk said.
According to Schenk’s artist statement, the idea for this piece grew out of the pain and longing she felt at the loss of her mother.
“I was really seeking answers; why it happened, why I felt this way,” Schenk said. “I knew I wanted to describe something indescribable. I think I actually got the idea for the pods when I was wandering around a fabric store and saw these silk flowers. My mom loved flowers—she’d press them and dry them —so I thought it would be a nice homage to her.”
The installation holds a magnetic attraction, not just within itself, but also for viewers. Visitors to the gallery find themselves longing to touch the pods or walk through the wires.
“I like that people want to touch it and move through it, and I like the frustration in it, that they can’t touch it,” Schenk said. “I thought about cutting it in half to make a pathway through it. I definitely want to do this installation again in the future, and I think it’s going to be different every time, so maybe next time that will be part of it.”
The show opened April 2 and will run through May 5. An opening reception was held April 7 in the Linfield Gallery.
Sharon Gollery/Culture editor
Sharon Gollery can be reached at email@example.com.