Explorations in Transforming the Mundane with Undine Brod and George Gregory

By Elissa Marcus

Stepping foot into OAL’s February show feels like stepping into your childhood bedroom and finding everything turned marvelously upside-down.  Aptly titled, “Transforming the Mundane:  The Mundane Transformed”, artists Undine Brod and George Gregory elevate the everyday, using ordinary objects and techniques to audience-resonating effect.  Hard to believe, then, that this show is a partnership between two Ohio State graduate students, and not a pair of artists further along in their careers.

Undine’s work is, for the most part, a study in series of things.  “I’m notorious for being a collector,” states Undine, “but I’m not sentimental about objects.”  Indeed everything in her collections, from books, to photos, to porcelain figurines are fodder for being drawn on, folded up, or, in the case of her “Family Portrait,” un-stuffed, re-stuffed, sewn together and framed.  The series of portraits on the gallery’s west wall features the disembodied limbs of varying plush animals in frames, jutting out like tentacles and with a mood just shy of macabre.  You’ll find no pink, blue, or green animals here, only brown, white and gray.  “I wanted these animals to be associated more closely with reality.  I contrast how we treat stuffed animals to how we treat actual animals in the real world,” she says.

Undine’s work speaks to her love of play.  An installation featuring porcelain animals, lamps, a desk, photos and other items are united by being singularly striped in purple.  Crochet doilies take on more structural elements when stacked and tunneled through.  Books take on new life as their pages are spread and origami’d to lanternly proportions.  “I just like to start trying things,” Undine explains, “I only understand my ideas once I’m in action.”

 

Fear of inertia propels her impressive output.  “When I lose my momentum, it’s hard to get it back.  That’s why I always try to stay in motion.  When I feel that way, I know it’s time to go back to my studio and just start working with whatever I can get my hands on.”  It is interesting, then, how the domestic nature of her collections and resulting work belie the frenetic energy with which they are created.

Co-exhibitioner George comes from a history of throwing things at the wall and seeing if they stick.  For him, the one thing that did was art.  “I was taking a drawing class for architecture, which led to printmaking and I said to myself, ‘I need to be doing fine art.’”  But the dedication, resolve and insight with which he creates speaks of an artist with twice his experience.

His childhood weekends spent with his grandmother inform much of his method and subject matter. “She taught me how to latch-hook.  I would do little kits and she would crochet the backs of them to make pillows.  It was my desire to take that childhood medium and put it with imagery you wouldn’t normally associate with it,” he says.  The result is a series of latch-hooks in beautiful, yet unconventional palettes which, when viewed from afar become nudes, or at least, parts of nudes.

The mathematical aspect of latch-hooking – following a rubric, completing squares of a grid, and the idea of colors “poking-through” holes in a background– drew him to explore with other mediums that could be treated in the same way.  “Circle Jerk” features a meme-like aerial photo of people from the knee down, executed neatly with sequins.  “Tennis Ball” is a mesmerizing study in taking pains.  10,000 individual, clear push-pins are dipped into paint and set into 10,000 holes drilled with a dremel into a backboard.  The effect is part-pointillist, part Magic Eye, and all pleasingly glittering and ordered.

Perhaps my favorite piece was part of a series called VIEW, where artists were paired with an Iraq War veteran in an effort to enhance communication of the individual soldiers’ experience.  The piece consists of an army jacket, whose sleeves are cut off and sewn together and stuffed to resemble a limb, with the sweat stains bedazzled with sequins.  George explains, “The soldier I worked with was a lesbian, and this piece was about not feeling emotionally whole, because she struggled with not being able to be honest.  Not even to the Army psychologist.  If she were to reveal her identity, he would have to report her.  But,” he continues, “really this piece is about every soldier that leaves something of themselves behind, and doesn’t get to come back whole; physically or emotionally.”

Though George and Undine’s approaches to their artistry are quite different, in this show they have come together in serendipitous alignment.  From tennis balls to push pins, to forgotten novels and toy boats, both take no small amount of pleasure and achieve great success in transforming the mundane

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