Paramnesia may no longer be a one-time household word in the Metro art scene, and the nomadic arts group, Echotrope “is in hiatus” according to its co-founders Jody Boyer and Russ Nordman, but the impact of each continues to influence these artists’ vision and points of view.
The former was a time-based, site-specific installation by Boyer and Nordman that helped jumpstart the wonderfully experimental and alternative Underground of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha in 2005.
Moreover, Paramnesia, the multi-media collaboration of this creative husband and wife team, was a precursor of Echotrope, which they founded as a resource for screenings, events, exhibits and workshops devoted to New Media in the Metro area.
Yet, while Echotrope flourished for nearly a decade in several regional venues, Boyer and Nordman were able to exhibit their own individual talent and interests as well. Such is the case with Machine/Man/Air/Land, the current show at RNG Gallery in Council Bluffs, which continues through August.
Machine/Man/Air/Land is more than a two-person exhibit that features the archival digital prints of Nordman, an associate professor of Intermedia and Digital Art at UNO and photo encaustic prints of Boyer, an art instructor at UNO and at Norris Middle School. This is not disparate work. Their imagery, tone and style may be quite different, but they continue to share and experiment with a similar vision.
Nordman says he has “always been influenced by the desire for symmetry and the quintessential artistic act of the formal merging with conceptual, the unified whole…” His series here, Air Combines, reconstructs machines, architecture and technology, mostly airplanes, in a complex “metaphysical” relationship with the people who create and use them.
“Metaphysical” because Nordman’s multilayered recreations of found images of airplane parts attempt a reality beyond which is perceptible to the senses. These digital images of exotic “machines” provoke because they allude to the gestalt concept of arriving at something larger than the sum of its parts, a major theme of the exhibit itself.
As conceptual as that sounds, and it is, Boyer’s series, Forest for the Trees, is even more so as her repetitions of similar tree imagery in groups of three and four suggest two things: First, that the idea or concept inherent in the series’ title takes precedence over traditional aesthetics and secondly, the work itself questions the very nature of art itself.
An additional key concept behind these solid, oval prints is Boyer’s continued “interest in the art and science of the lens and its ability to frame the world around us.” Trees then are merely her object of choice, because like bodies of water or cloud formations, they serve as a suitable mediator and motivator for her photographic experiment with her real subject: “an intimate, fragmented and personal experience with atmosphere, landscape and a sense of space.”
As separate artists, what they have in common is that “act of the formal merging with conceptual, the unified whole.” In the process, creating something both material and immaterial and discovering that one informs the other in a sort of interdependency that enriches the experience. The result is an exhibit of seemingly polar opposites that nonetheless reflect not only two sides of a singular vision but their relationship and collaboration too.
“The perception of the show,” Nordman acknowledges, “may be that my work is the left brain and Jody’s is the right brain. I can see that, and it may be true. It’s almost as if I developed these left brain constraints to articulate some of my right brain chaos whereas Jody uses right brain to break away from left brain necessities life demands.”
Boyer agrees, adding that the key to their success as individuals and collaborators is balance and one thing more. “My partnership with Russ, both in marriage and as artistic colleagues, is a great supporting force,” she says. “I think we are ying/yang in how we support each other…every moment of our lives is a ying/yang balance.”
Aside from the above theoretical considerations that unite this exhibit, aesthetically the work falls into its own balance of perceived masculine/feminine characteristics. Boyer’s deceptively simple and subtle encaustic prints are ephemeral, intimate, introspective, fragmented and microcosmic. Nordman’s digital designs, conversely, are holistic, esoteric, scientific, symmetrical and macro.
Visually, the show invites a similar comparison/contrast. Though the art consists of photographic prints, the point of view of each artist involves an additional lens so to speak. Nordman’s layered and geometric constructs are kaleidoscopic. Each image is a formal composition of repetitious airplane wings, tails, engines and landing gear that invite both close-up inspection and the imagination, another push/pull affirmation of his creativity.
Likewise, Boyer’s tree images are repetitious and layered, as one would expect photos of mostly tree limbs and branches. Yet, the POV is telescopic and the focus is selective with background blurred and background sharp and clear. The foreshortening places the viewer within this skeletal maze as if floating among in sublime meditation.
This “tree of life” metaphor, with all of its mystery, flow and connectivity--not unlike the wing of a bat, a leaf or our own neurological and cardiovascular systems—is asymmetrical and natural and challenges viewers to make their connections and to trust the journey itself in order to complete the picture.
Unlike Boyer’s “unfinished,” yet to be discovered ends, each of Nordman’s prints are a finished work unto itself, a product of one who not only works within a system, the relationship of machine, technology and man, but finds meaning in the process.
In his digital photo series of AirCombines, he wanders among an archive of airplane images—not unlike the late Jesuit artist Leland Lubbers who gathered found objects among junkyards and created innovative contemporary sculpture—and then reconstructs them into nearly abstract, symmetrical montages.
Lubbers’ 3D objects invoked social/political commentary. Nordman’s 2D prints comment on man’s interdependency with the industrial world. We create machines to serve us, but philosophers and artists alike question, who is the master? He says, “without us, they would sit idle,” but one wonders how far civilization would advance or survive without them?
Just as Boyer’s imagery soars skyward psychologically, Nordman gives us the means mechanically to take flight imaginatively via a reconstructed airplane. Engines, props and wings give way to snow or ice crystals, seedpods and interplanetary weaponry and modes of exploration. But whatever his designs conjure up in the viewer, the result is a process of making the familiar seem unfamiliar until it’s familiar again.
It’s a similar cycle with Boyer but the process is even more ambiguous. He is all about providing structure but mostly as a starting point for new beginnings. She fragments structure and embraces chaos as a means of liberation for the sake of the journey. Together, they’ve combined to demonstrate that a successful two-person show depends on being able to envision the forest for the trees.
Man/Machine/Air/Land continues through August 2013 at the RNG Gallery in Council Bluffs at 157 West Broadway. For more details, go to dixiequicks.com.