Nicole Gruter (MFA 2009)
Nicole Gruter had a story for every object at her yard sale and wouldn’t let you buy it without hearing the tale.
“I have a problem letting material things go without having the recipient know what it meant to me,” she said in an email advertising the event. “It is fascinating to me how an inanimate object can hold so much emotional weight, conjure so many memories, or redirect your mood and I want to give each item a personal send off with my attached story.”
Gruter has performed in and out of gallery spaces for the past couple years, covering issues including immigration, nostalgia, food, war and operatic arias.
In 2006, Gruter served pie to gallery visitors while standing barefoot on a tabletop, tethered at the ankles and wrists. In a 2007 performance at the Capitol Square in Madison, she dressed in Old Glory colors and gave passersby small American flag-wrapped “tax receipts” that listed how much money Madisonians spent on the Iraq war.
Gruter billed the yard sale at her Madison-area home this July as an “Inheritance Sale.”
The hundreds of objects she was selling – don’t be offended if it was something you gave her – carry emotional weight that she wanted to purge from her system before passing them on.
“I had a revelation that I was completely overwhelmed with my possessions,” Gruter explained between stories and exchanges. “I was literally getting squeezed out of my rooms.”
The subject of hoarding and purging has been the central theme of her MFA, which includes a “tea tour” performance and video about a “forgotten” tea set she inherited from her Dutch grandmother.
"I'm experimenting with infusing memory into these items of inherited obligation,” Gruter said. “I mean, I can't just sell this tea set to some stranger on Ebay… Or can I?"
The “tea tour” and other performances, including the yard sale, serve as Gruter’s platform for discussing people’s obsessions with heirlooms and other “stuff” they have difficulty letting go of.
Indeed, some items at her yard sale proved to be too sentimental for Gruter, who grabbed them back when people attempted to negotiate a price.
Chris Hindle (MFA 2009)
Chris Hindle saw two streams converging in the woods near his campsite in Missouri and saw an opportunity for making art.
Truth be told, Hindle had already sketched out a site-specific piece in a different part of the woods, but quickly abandoned the plan to create a new one on the fly.
Building the installation – using mostly found materials including large stones, a flexible branch and some twine – was about the process and the fun of making art for as long as it lasted in that spot.
“I wasn’t looking at it as going into a show,” he said.
Nevertheless, he included photos, maps and a water mill-like sculpture from the project in his M.A. exhibit last year at the Project Lodge in Madison.
Hindle, a sculptor turned self-trained video graphics designer who quit his TV job to return to art school, describes his work using the adjectives “spontaneous,” “goofy,” “playful,” and “whimsical.”
His organic-looking creations, whittled from sticks and branches and pieced together with natural fibers, recycled glass and other found materials, often move in the breeze or ask to be fondled – always by design.
“There is a childlike element to them – a playfulness – because I do see life as fun,” he said. “I have become more comfortable with the spontaneity of my work.”
Hindle no longer fusses over details in his work and finds comfort in the simplicity of the mediums he uses.
“The found materials are very, very important to me,” he said, explaining that they represent his own past and the concept of humans dealing with what’s at hand, what they know about what’s right in front of them.
Hindle started using found and recycled materials by necessity but now chooses to incorporate old paper shopping bags, mat straps and other detritus.
“For me, creating art is fun and that comes out in my artwork… even if it has a serious undertone,” he said.
Lisa Sikorski (MFA 2009)
The white, heather gray and mossy green spots of mould delicately speckle Lisa Sikorski’s ring of orange jello.
The jello mold was the first of more than a dozen that Sikorski put on display over the course of a month in the 7th Floor Gallery of the Humanities Building as part of an MFA exhibition this fall.
“The material absolutely fascinates me,” she said, explaining the miraculousness of the gelatin life cycle: powdery, viscous, elastic-y, filmy, mouldy, shrunken and hard. “It’s uncanny, this questionable material that dries out, but can be reconstituted and look exactly as it was.”
Sikorski has been exploring the ephemeral beauty of confections in her art for the past two years, focusing on desiccation in nature and people’s habit of ignoring human and female beauty past its ‘accepted’ peak.
Prior to this fall’s show, Sikorski created works in which she enclosed jello molds in a glass case and left them for an entire month to show off the changing form of beauty the jello takes over time.
“You have to appreciate it for where it is now, in its state of decomposition,” she said. “It’s a way of talking about how we easily disregard something that passes by our visual interest.”
Her fresh jello molds are beautiful, but inedible: she makes them with plain gelatin and maybe some food coloring – heightening the viewer’s awareness of the beauty in confection while at the same time denying them of it.
Working with plaster or resin once occurred to Sikorski but it didn’t have the ‘living quality’ of gelatin: clarity without being rock-hard. Neither do other materials disintegrate or lose their form, which is important to Sikorski, she said.
“It came to the point when I didn’t want to make any more objects that lasted,” she said.
Sikorski loves the fact that there’s no sense of lasting as she explores new ways of displaying with jello – she can repeat the process afresh again and again after each display decomposes.
“Nothing can exist in perpetuity from that exploration,” she said. “It’s not about mastering a technique or about showing how ornate something can be… how masterfully you’ve worked the material.”