By: Chris Riemer
Eat me alive so that I may see you from the inside.
There’s something pink in the window display at Gallery 51. A cage-like metal form covered in ribbon, from which springs protrude on all sides. It’s vaguely intestinal.
Some kind of disassembled box spring bed frame? A pile of trash wrapped in cloth? Above it, in a simple black font, are the words “Eat me alive so that I may see you from the inside.”
Inside the gallery, sculptures rise from the floor like demented fountains built from foam, silk, and cheap plastic appurtenances. The walls are lined with stark ink drawings, supersaturated video stills, and collages reminiscent of medical dictionaries.
“Do you think North Adams is ready for all this?” Jenny Gaylord muses, a local, as she looks around
Ambient music pours from a wall-mounted television. On the screen, a creature with a reflective mask lies in a pond while a woman with a straw hat wordlessly stuffs multicolored viscera into its transparent onesie.
It’s all the work of three artists: Maggie Nowinski, Alicia Renadette, and Torsten Zenas Burns.
The three artists, all from Central Mass, are billed equally. Each provides their own piece of a vivid and bizarre puzzle: Renadette’s sculptures, Nowinski’s drawings, and Burns’ film.
Tags indicate who made each piece. However, it might be easier to take in as a whole.
The film is a good place to start. All three of the artists appear at times; sitting, dancing, and performing surgeries on one another, among various other activities that seem both alien and oddly deliberate.
Most of the footage was taken with a shaky handheld camera. The tripod appears occasionally, mostly as a prop in scenes that feature rubber masks spewing smoke into an idyllic New England landscape.
Burns has a knack for overlaying multiple video tracks to create a fractured, kaleidoscopic depiction of what was already ludicrous.
One particularly alluring scene focuses on two of the artists in a bathtub, spilling shaving cream onto pink and green plastic toys and rubbing them against their torsos like some sacred ritual while a gentle synthesizer trips along in the distance.
After spending enough time in front of the screen, the other pieces in the exhibition can be viewed properly as parts of a central message. The shrine-like clusters of repurposed material and the blown-up microscopic creatures on the wall are contextualized and given life.
Ibrahim Wanu, a student who works at the gallery, sums up the feeling:
“You start off confused, but then you get comfortable when you realize what’s going on. Then, you get uncomfortable for knowing what’s going on.”
Nowinski’s ink prints use little color, but have their own brand of peculiarity. Like science class slides of zooplankton and other microorganisms, the images urge viewers to study them anatomically rather than artistically.
On the back wall, a complexly layered lightbox reveals that the artist can do more than impeccable linework: Nowinski is an accomplished installation artist and a studio arts teacher.
The sculptures scattered around the gallery floor bring to mind some kind of living sacrifice.
Built from rubber gloves, bubble wrap, yarn, beads, wicker, Christmas lights, textile swatches, and other strange miscellanea, Renadette’s pieces breathe and bleed like the twisted organic entities in Burns’ video.
To better understand everything, the artists have filled coffee-table books with images from the film, their lives, and the internet.
Within are contained hints of their message and their inspiration. A photo of a glass frog’s intestines showing through its translucent skin calls to mind the see-through suits that appear often in the film.
Those looking for a less self-conscious and abrasive examination of shared experience will be better off in Gallery 51’s neighboring space, Press, which is currently featuring printmaking machinery, although student artwork is on display at all times.
“Eat me alive so that I may see you from the inside” opened on August 27, and will remain at Gallery 51 until Nov. 1.
During the DownStreet Art festival on Sept. 24, the gallery will host a book launch and a screening of another of Burns’ videos, which will feature the other two artists.
More information on this exhibition can be found at Mcla.edu/gallery51, or at Aliciarenadette.wordpress.com.