Ian Trask’s “Cosmic Thread” at the Center for Contemporary Art. Photos by Dave Clough

The current grouping of shows at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland is notable in so many ways, not least of which is that each one of the four exhibits is spectacular in its own right.

Some of their themes overlap, but for the most part, each evokes a particular contemplation and/or set of emotions. It is rare that a museum experience is so thoroughly and consistently satiating from one end to the other. All run through Jan. 8.

Ian Trask, ‘Mind Loops’

This exhibition features recent suspension wall installations by the Brunswick-based artist Ian Trask. The work is all recent and endlessly intriguing in terms of its materiality, mechanistic form and environmental message. Upon entering the museum, visitors are confronted with “Cosmic Thread,” a monumental wall work that initially looks like a perpetual motion machine, except that it is stationary.

Trask is well known for intercepting materials from the waste stream, a process and approach that makes us both question what trash is (one man’s is another’s treasure, as the saying goes), and examine the sheer magnitude of the garbage humanity generates in proportion to its presence on the planet.

The materials he uses in “Cosmic Thread” (and other smaller works) are textile belts and trims, felt, slide projector carousels and wooden wheel molds. It is slightly miraculous to realize, as we immerse ourselves in particular sections of the work, how banal materials so summarily discarded can be transformed into such beauty.

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The way Trask mixes colors and textures, matte elements with glittery ones, and areas where belts hang slack with others where they are tightly wound, produces a kind of movement and rhythm that syncopates our vision across the wall. From a distance, we can also decipher what look like familiar forms (a nautilus shell, a finial like those atop Hindu stupas, flowers, pupae) mixed with more abstract lines, loops and decorative motifs.

Trask has worked every inch of this piece, most evident when one examines the carousels, each of which is treated differently. One appears stuffed with an Ace bandage, another with hazard tape, etc. The intricacy is mind-boggling.

Other works hew more closely to what we are used to with this artist. They consist of balls made of recycled materials that have been bundled and tied together, then suspended on monofilament to create patterns in front of walls that cast their shadows onto them. The most interesting one is “Infinite Pathways” for, again, its sense of movement. It feels almost like a labyrinth or trails left by tiny creatures in the sand or soil.

Installation of Elijah Ober’s “Calcium/Your Future Ex Squirrelfriend” at Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland.

Elijah Ober, ‘Calcium/Your Future Ex Squirrelfriend’

The image of animal tracks is a nice segue into the darkened room where Elijah Ober presents a riotous installation of chubby, adorable blue squirrels carved from Styrofoam and videos featuring snails. At first you might feel like you are inside a Sandy Skoglund installation.

In the 1980s, Skoglund became known for surreal room installations she then photographed. Every object in her tableaux was painted a single saturated color, while swarms of sculpted animals painted another color (cats, foxes and, yes, squirrels) chaotically romped around inside them. Sometimes there were people in the rooms as well, unpainted and seemingly unaware that anything was amiss.

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Here the squirrels scamper around corners, perch atop pedestals and on a wall, roll over and scratch themselves and so on. It’s a pointedly enchanting display. Ober wants to seduce us into reconsidering our usual view of these cute creatures as dirty, havoc-wreaking vermin. He wants us to see that, at some dimension of reality, we are all part of one holistic universe and, as such, extensions of each other.

In previous work, Ober has incorporated castings of pieces of ground over which skunks, another creature we consider a pest, left their tracks. On the wall of the squirrel room, another sort of track is recorded in digital animation: that of a snail. Snails require calcium for shell health. What we see on a grid of six variously sized screens is the spiral journey of a snail across a wall. Drywall is a particularly rich source of calcium sulfate – an ingredient also found in plaster, blackboards and chalk. So, we are watching a snail eating the drywall and effectively destroying the wall.

Hence our dismissive image of snails as insidious nuisances (they’ll also eat holes in your cabbage plants and leave slimy trails in their wake). I first saw this video projected on a single screen at a group exhibit in Brunswick, and I was mesmerized. Splitting it up amongst six screens makes it even more compelling.

There’s just so much more going. As the snail eats away, the studs behind the wall become visible, thus evoking the sense of hidden structures of all kinds (physical, psychological, etc.) and surface demeanors adopted to conceal them. The motion of the spiral also pushes against the tidy orthogonal neatness of the grid, suggesting the chaos of the wild versus the order of the constructed. And because the grid breaks up the snail’s progress, they also interrupt the order of our sequential minds, leaving gaps in perception.

A second space has the larger title animation and tells a tale of one snail’s quest to find the source of all calcium in hopes that it might “grow to be quite large and, perhaps, more beautiful.” This sort of greed and vanity, we are meant to understand, mirrors human behavior, breaking down another indefensible binary dichotomy between “us” and “them.”

I’m less convinced of the second video, which comes perhaps closer to an endearing Disney or Pixar creation than a compelling piece of video art. And I wonder whether the squirrels would stand on their own as sculptures outside of the context of the larger installation. But Ober’s work is promising and is sure to evolve in deeper ways as he develops as an artist.

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‘Through This to That,’ by Daniel Minter and Eneida Sanches, centers around a boxcar. The collaboration was made possible by Indigo Arts Alliance in Portland.

Daniel Minter and Eneida Sanches, ‘Through This to That’

This 1,800-square-foot collaboration between Portland-based Daniel Minter and Brazilian artist Eneida Sanches (Salvador, Bahia) is profoundly moving not only for its content – rich and loaded enough – but for the way it toggles back and forth between these artists’ work so seamlessly that it becomes hard to tell who originated this or that element. The intimacy and kindred understanding between their souls is palpable.

Using video, sculpture, painting, assemblage, copper-plate etchings, drawing and other media, the two artists explore the displacement at the center of the African Diaspora experience and the ways this experience is shared across seas and continents. There is something multilayered that happens as we enter and walk around this room – a feeling of melancholy tempered by small moments of everyday joy; a sense of the grounding deliberateness, intention and reverence of ritual; and, most surprisingly, what feels like an intense excavation of a very personal degree of interiority.

If we feel into it, there is an impression in that interiority that we are inside the hearts of these two people looking out at the world. I have never had such an experience, and it made me want to fall to my knees and cry.

There are painful realities here, none more difficult to bear than the cruelty and greed inherent in the commerce in human souls. In the center is a kind of miniature boxcar sitting on railroad tracks, the rail sleepers painted blood red. This construction is very much in Minter’s style, though we cannot be sure Sanches did not touch some aspect of it.

The boxcar – already a metaphor for inhumanities from freight-hopping migrant workers to Nazi Germany – is papered in images of dollar bills and cotton scales. On one side is what might be a part of a cotton gin painted with a Black man’s face, as well as a hammer wrapped in cotton muslin. On the other is a box containing cacao beans. Cotton and cacao, of course, were principal crops harvested and processed by enslaved Black people in the U.S. and Brazil, respectively.

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Another work, by Sanches I believe, depicts a boat with a mast and a sail made of feathers. The vessel is sailing over a “sea” of copper pennies, a clear allusion to both the financial exploitation of enslaved labor and the riches gained from it by the dominant class. I am not sure what the feathers refer to, though I would say they might allude to barnyard fowl (there are many chickens and guinea hen throughout the rest of the installation).

Next to this work is a boat viewed head-on, part of Minter’s familiar iconography and a symbol of the Middle Passage as well as the weight of slavery and the ensuing burden of racism on all civilization. Yet feathers surround this boat like wings, an element that seems more akin to Sanches’ work. Beneath it are rocks, which might intimate the fraught journey leading here and the equally fraught journey to understanding and oneness.

The work builds power as you circle the room and crisscross it to relate one element to another. Imagery of farming, fishing, childbirth and people with musical instruments all indicate routines and rituals of daily life, transmitting a feeling of having made a home in this new land.

But these are tempered by reminders of the hard road to this place. Spend time here. Come quietly and openly, and this installation has the ability to crack your heart wide open.

Jenny Brillhart, “Arrangement in Grey and Black,” 2022, drywall, acrylic and oil paint, paper, Styrofoam, linen, wood, and wool.

‘Interiors’

The largest gallery at CMCA is given over entirely to the idea of physical interiority, meaning interior spaces where we shelter and dream. It brings together many media and genres through the work of 10 Maine-based artists.

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The space is anchored in the center by Corinna D’Schoto’s skeletal sculpture of a house interior. Through her use of metal framing, D’Schoto achieves something similar to what Fred Sandback did with string. As you walk through the installation, you get the feeling that, like Sandback’s arbitrarily limned spaces, the steel outlines of walls and doorways frame sheets of glass, even though they are actually empty.

Warning: Walking through it might make you a little dizzy. But the sculpture touches on ideas of what is actually concealed or open, of exposure and nakedness, of shelter – real and imagined. Around it on the floor, D’Schoto has used metallic contact paper to create shadows of windows we cannot see. It’s a very interesting experience to sense how it impacts the feeling of one’s body when you’re “inside” it.

There are works by many familiar names here: Gail Spaien’s idealized room scenes, Smith Galtney’s slightly surreal photos (one of a passenger seat window taken from the driver’s point of view while in a car wash is particularly bizarre in a good way), Peter Moriarty’s black-and-white greenhouse photographs.

Two painters I was not familiar with and quite impressed by are Jay Stern and K. Min. Stern’s “Three Limes (As it was)” is a ostensibly a picture of this citrus on a butcher block table in a kitchen. But Stern’s energetic brush strokes and application of many layers of color make the image feel perpetually morphing and moving. It’s a very interesting mix of representation and abstraction. And K. Min’s trio of works (especially one of a cable marking out a space in front of an invisible work of art in a museum) are fascinating compositionally and relate in some way to D’Schoto’s artificially demarcated spaces.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected] 


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