Making Treasure from Trash: Reclamation at Center for Visual Art

Who knew my recycling pile could be turned into an object of beauty? Fodder for the formal narratives of art?

Large cardboard forms fill the vast spaces of CVA’s new space on Santa Fe Drive in Denver. Because of their size and the vast number of them, they are the first objects one notices. Are they ceramic? Formed of some metal? Papier-mâché? What are the strips and grids? Upon closer inspection one sees that they are cardboard–stapled, formed, varnished, painted. They are organic, figurative, and something not familiar made from commonplace brown corrugate. The works of Ann Weber evoke memories of architecture, of Peter Voulkos ceramics and Frank Gehry furniture and are equally reminiscent of ancient basketmaking as they are to George Morandi’s bottles.

Weber is featured in Reclamation at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Center for Visual Art, an exhibit where the press release states: “The mundane is beautiful, the industrial is refined and function gives over to form.” It’s a lovely sentence to describe this exhibit, which I found to be equally elegant and ordinary. From the inlaid mother-of-pearl patterns from traditional Filipino furniture found on discarded shipping pallets by Yumi Janairo Roth, to the photo-based assemblages of paper cups, aluminum cans and film cartridges by Jon Reitfors, to the shredded and remade billboard by Sabin Aell, this exhibit forced me to see the beauty in detritus–the significant, formed from the insignificant. But more than that each artist made the sum of the parts cooperate or contradict with the object made. There is a dialogue between material and creation, a construction of meaning.

Perhaps it is the inclusion of Terry Maker’s “Water to Wine” and “Akeldama” and their direct religious construct that pushes this exhibit into some type of spiritual territory for me. The large works are made from shredded church documents, bibles, drinking straws and bread baskets. Maker includes dots, marks and lines in an attempt to logically map a mystical and miraculous event. “Water to Wine” is based upon the biblical story of Jesus turning the water into wine at a wedding in Cana. His first miracle. Maker then shows his final miracle in “Akeldama,” a cross-shaped work that she says is about his crucifixion and resurrection. It’s the title that throws me off. “Akeldama” is the name of the field that Judas Iscariot purchased with the 30 pieces of silver he got for betraying Jesus. The field was a potter’s field of red clay and eventually became a burial ground for non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Akeldama means field of blood and it is a question whether the field is named after the blood of Judas or the blood of Christ. Maker must presume it is the blood of Christ, but the additional question make the work more contemplative, more alchemical. And I began to see all the works that way.

Reclamation speaks to the human need to overcome consumption, to subvert capitalistic messages and to focus on the still, quiet voice at the creative core. The used cardboard, splintered pallets, old billboard ads, empty film canisters are reborn into works of beauty, for human enjoyment, to spark our sense of wonder at their size or the combination of color, shape and form. But more than that, to make us ponder and plot the course between reason and intuition, between mind and spirit, between the mundane and beautiful and in the process reclaim the joy that we did not initially find in consuming the materials used in these works.


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