Go to New York City and wonder at the sight of the Statue of Liberty rising out of New York Harbor. On a tablet within the pedestal on which the statue stands is an engraved poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”, containing the often quoted lines “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” The poem was written to commemorate the installation of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s statue, a gift of international friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States.
Go to Metropolitan Community College’s Gallery of Art and Design, Elkhorn Valley Campus, 204th and West Dodge Road. Close to the entrance is another large statue, this one a head made of concrete, sitting in the grass. “Mak”, the nine foot tall portrait of sculptor Jamie Burmeister’s daughter, is the largest single piece in Prime, the artist’s sabbatical exhibition now on view. By the use of materials and form of the head, “Mak” appears to commemorate every person.
Burmeister’s art emerges from a broad range of curiosity in the world around him. Using any technology available he crafts responses from the silly to the mundane. It is an enterprise of exploration and a whimsical celebration of life. “Music Within My Head” uses TV’s, and electronics to create a meditative sound environment. The sound is triggered by the viewer sitting in a rocking chair in front of a group of TV’s. The TV’s display images of Burmeister’s mouth humming different sounds. They could be a metaphor for the white noise and random thoughts which pass through our minds every day.
“The interactive pieces are more direct,” Burmeister said in an interview. “The viewer becomes part of the piece. In a gallery or museum I watch people more than the art.”
“Bubblegum”, a self-portrait made from wads of bubblegum chewed by family, friends, and others is a life size head mounted on a six foot, one inch steel stand. “It’s a goofy thing,” chuckled Burmeister. “It’s disgusting, people’s saliva, yet their DNA, added to it. It’s the people filling my head, making the art.” The bubblegum at first glance looks like play-doh. The bright colors attract attention and invite closer inspection. Getting closer and understanding it’s “wads of gum head” is funny and repulsive all at the same time. It is disarmingly accepting of the human condition, foibles and all.
The small ceramic figures in “Vermin.me”, circumnavigate the room, floor to ceiling, around the wall. There are hundreds of them, sitting or standing, alone or in groups, all going in the same direction. Being surrounded by them evokes a sensation of being just like them, moving forward, yet not quite sure where it’s going. The different colored earthenware, and scale of children to adults has taken Burmeister’s original vermin to another level of engagement.
“Each one has their own intention” said Burmeister, “in what they’re thinking about, or doing.” Exponentially multiplying these small modeled figures in space reconfigures art historical notions of traditional sculpture. The forms are not colossal, yet the idea is. The original vermin.me project invited participants to place generic small figures in public places around the world, another variation on viewer participation.
The cast bronze “Vermins” in the back of the gallery are each placed in their own relationship, to the found pedestal they’re placed on. There are also relationships to the wall, to themselves, or others. The imperfection of their forms enhances the existential dilemma of each.
Burmeister’s “Vermins” call to mind Lazarus’ “yearning to breathe free”, yet through the wonder of their own humanity they communicate a freedom of deliberation and sense of hopefulness, not unlike the Statue of Liberty.
As Bartholdi gave the United States the gift of a colossal statue to commemorate friendship, Burmeister’s Prime is an act of generosity. For anyone taking the time to engage, the exhibition invites the viewer’s fullest consideration. All the pieces on view are themselves considered aspects of what it means to be present, fully emerged in the world just as it is.
Prime continues through Jan. 9, 2013, Metropolitan Community College Gallery of Art and Design, Elkhorn Valley Campus, 204th and West Dodge Road. Gallery hours M–F, 9am – 5pm. www.jamieburmeister.com/; http://vermin.me/