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Posted on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 7:05 a.m.

Gallery Project has spectacular fun with multimedia 'Circus'

By John Carlos Cantu


"Feats of Strength" by Joe Levickas

It would be simple to say that Gallery Project’s “Circus” is more fun than a barrel of monkeys — but simple is the last way to describe this spectacular multimedia exhibit.

As has been typical of Gallery Project fare, this exhibit displays varied works whose initial appearance leads to added depths.

This exhibit explores psychological undercurrents that don’t always fit with the sunny concepts we often associate with the circus. Indeed, the gallery’s exhibition statement clearly states Gallery Project’s intent:

“According to our folklore, (the circus) began with running away. The ill-suited participant in mainstream society ran off to become part of something less rigid, less strict, and less ‘normal.’

“Through the circus, they participated in a dream life, where they were no less welcomed than anyone else, and where things were possible that elsewhere would not be. This version of the circus serves as an analogy for living a dream instead of living a practical stable life.

“But the truth about the circus, especially in the present day, is more complex. Nowadays, circus professionals are often highly trained performers who enrolled at specials schools to learn and hone their craft. Professional circus shows, from Barnum & Bailey to Ringling Brothers to Cirque du Soleil, are comprised of hard-working, talented performers who in many cases have gotten to their current position only after years of dedicated study and practice.”

“Circus” is another spot-on example of this cutting-edge gallery’s nonconformist vision of art—this nexus between what is and what seems to be. In fact, what’s always made their exhibits special is the uncomfortable realization that not only do such dichotomies exist between reality and illusion; sometimes, they are interchangeable.

This is especially true of “Circus.” For who among us hasn’t wanted this illusion to be real? It’s this suspension of disbelief where “Circus” willfully resides.

If its shadows are vaguely uncomfortable in some parts, it’s because of the special relationship the circus has with the fantastic and the macabre.

As the gallery’s statement concludes, “The power of the ‘Circus,’ both historically and presently, lies in its ability to redefine and challenge our beliefs about the possible: Conquering what is dangerous, doing what is thought to be physically impossible, reconstructing what is anatomically ‘correct.’

“In this exhibit, artists explore the issues that arise in the context of circus — spectacle, mystery, deception/truth, physical acts of danger and athleticism, sexiness/the grotesque, a fascination with the strange and unusual — and investigate its history, politics and aesthetics, as well as its colors, costumes and performers.”

Contributing local, regional, national, and international artists in the exhibit are Melissa Avery, Rachel Beckman, Thom Bohnert, Seder Burns, Sue Coe, C. Ryder Cooley, Sara DiDonato, John Dinser (Ann Arbor), Erin Garber-Pearson, Timothy Gaewsky, Dellas Henke, Herring & Herring, Lou Krurger, Heidi Jensen , Pamela Joseph, Joe Levickas (Ann Arbor), Jamiyla Lowe, Seamus Liam O'Brien, Tom Linder, Robert Sites, Silvia B., Spilt Sugar Photography, Ryan Standfest, and Brett Day Windham. The exhibit has been curated by Gallery Project collaborators Garber-Pearson and Levickas.

One of the most disturbing (and fascinating) images of the exhibit — is Bowling Green digital photomontage artist Lou Krueger’s “Squirrel Man” and “Girl Alive.” Both of these photomontages — a man who has the near-literal physical appearance of a squirrel and a young woman whose spinal column has seemingly been removed via surgery with her head twisted around— exercise the bizarre fascination that’s perennially been part of the attraction of certain kinds of sideshows.

The New York-based Herring & Herring advertising studio team, on the other hand, has contributed three color photographs from their 2012 “Push and Pull It!” swimwear series that reflect an acrobatic routine. The photos illustrates how malleable the human body can be.


"Man without a Face: Illustrated Man" by John Dinser

Ann Arborite Joe Levickas’s colorful gouache and pencil on paper “Feats of Strength” features a circus strongman holding a baby elephant across his shoulders. Fellow Tree Towner John Dinser’s digital mixed-media “Man without a Face: Illustrated Man” uses cunning digital technology to craft the portrait of a particularly knowing tattooed circus performer.

As I’ve noted in the past, Gallery Project has always taken special pleasure in its lower-level films and installations. This display’s special installation is Hudson Valley, NY performance artist C. Ryder Cooley’s and Northern Illinois University Design Professor Bart Woodstrup’s “Animalia Animation” video presentation, with accompanying book.

“Animalia Animation” has been described as “an inter-species fairytale about a girl who is disenchanted with the world and wishes she could fly. She joins the circus only to discover it is a secret military operation. She then runs away to the woods and falls under the spell of a mystical deer. When she becomes an antlered deer-creature, she finally achieves flying powers and enters an ethereal world of hybrid creatures.”

This might seem like an unreasonably heavy burden for a 20-minute animated story to bear, but Cooley and Woodstrup pull it off superbly because “Animalia Animation” is just the right blend of fantasy and fanfare one expects of the circus. In an exhibit devoted to the greatest show on earth, it’s easily the topper of the Big Top.

“Circus” will continue through May 5 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. Exhibit hours are noon-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 734-997-7012.