November 18, 2012

Postcards from the cutting edge

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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Two installations by Ling-Wen Tsai, including “Residual 1-9,” sumi ink on paper, on the wall at left.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Ling-Wen Tsai discusses her work “Residual 1-9” with art student Diane Morin of Augusta.

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: Through Dec. 16

HOURS: 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday to Sunday; 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Art Gallery at University of New England, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland


INFO: 221-4499;

At first glance, the art on view at the Art Gallery at the University of New England in Portland seems remarkably disconnected.

In one corner of the upper floor, a bass drum thumps mechanically like a heart beat. Boom, boom, boom.

On another wall hang three long rectangular black boxes filled with charcoal and black paper quilled to resemble botanically correct plants.

Just down the way, another artist dangles human hair braided into a giant rope that drapes from a buttress made from apple wood.

Visually and aesthetically, they feel disconnected. But look closer, and one will see they are linked by a conceptual thread that suggests a cycle of life. Eventually, the drum will stop beating. The plants will die. The hair has already been combed from the scalp.

These pieces -- by Alicia Eggert, Lauren Fensterstock and Diana Cherbuliez -- represent continuum and pattern, and are part of an ambitious new exhibition at UNE, "Maine Women Pioneers III."

The exhibition will unveil in four phases through next summer. The first, on view through Dec. 16, is subtitled "Vanguard" and features avant garde, experimental and innovative works by nine women who explore ideas using mixed media, conceptual installation, performance and video elements.

In addition to Eggert, Fensterstock and Cherbuliez, other artists in this show are stalwarts of the contemporary art scene in Maine: Susan Bickford, Amy Stacey Curtis, Lihua Lei, Julie Poitras Santos, Carrie Scanga and Ling-Wen Tsai.

Britta Konau, former curator at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, makes an argument in her catalog essay that women are uniquely qualified to lead the way to the future because they are comfortable working in new media. Traditionally, that has meant photography -- Berenice Abbott is a good example.

In the 21st century, that means video and performance art.


"These new disciplines come without the ideological baggage of male-dominated tradition and thus supply a level playing field," Konau writes. The nine women "engage in mostly non-traditional media and often make work inter-disciplinary, participating in the current trend of abolishing specialization in a particular medium. All of them are extremely innovative and constantly push their media, and themselves, to further the dialogue that art of today is."

It's coincidental, perhaps, that they live in Maine. Their vision, experience and practice, Konau argues, are of national and international levels.

The "Vanguard" exhibition certainly supports Konau's arguments.

The show feels fresh, witty and probing. It is less about visual stimulation and more about connecting people with ideas and concepts.

Tsai uses her feeling of "in-between-ness" as a Taiwanese artist living and working in Maine in her communal piece "Sitting Quietly." She arranges stools in a small circle, each with a sound-canceling headset. Participants are asked to sit quietly. The headsets cancel the noise of the drum and human chatter, and encourage a contemplative state.

What happens in that contemplative state is less important than finding it. It is about finding balance, control and isolation in a communal setting.

Poitras Santos uses two levels of the gallery for her piece, "twist: when one wonders what." The piece includes objects, video, sound and performance. The dominant element is a snake-like tangle of black ropes that is unraveled by a performer perched on a stool. She wears a black-feathered jacket.

When the performer is not present, the rope sits unattended, the jacket hanging. As the rope is unwoven and undone, its inherent tangles become comprehensible and orderly.

Eggert, who teaches at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, explores time. In addition to being an artist, she is a mechanical engineer. Her kick drum, which she's titled "Pulse Machine," works mechanically, and is programmed to beat like a heart until it can beat no longer.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Artists and gallery goers mingle at a recent gathering of the artists of “Maine Women Pioneers III: Vanguard.”

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Diana Cherbuliez discusses one of her pieces, “Let Myself Down,” which she created using her own hair.

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Susan Bickford, amid her piece, “Torndado,” which was inspired by the death of her father earlier this year.

Andres A. Verzosa photo

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