The latest exhibit to open at the Opalka Gallery makes viewers question everything from power structures to road signs.
Aptly titled “In-faux-structure,” it examines falsities and injustices not only in our society’s physical structures, but in our cultural structures as well.
Starting off on the latter note is artist Rebekah Tolley. In her series — which includes “Diaper Quilt,” “Diaper Affirmations” and “All the Places … ” — she delves into the challenges facing women who have recently given birth. Figuring out who to turn to with health questions, or where and how to nurse in public are everyday struggles for many new moms. In Tolley’s interactive work, she asks visitors to describe on paper breasts and diapers where they nursed their child or changed their child’s diaper, especially those places that weren’t necessarily conducive environments.
Another work that plays off of Tolley’s is heard before it’s seen. Moms who have nursed will immediately recognize the sound of a breast pump when they enter the gallery, but the source of it is tucked into the second half of the space and into an industrial-looking grey chamber with signs declaring “High Voltage Keep Out” and “Warning: Keep Breasts Concealed.”
One door of the chamber is opened, revealing two silicone breasts being pumped.
Photos courtesy of Opalka Gallery
The piece, called “Lactricity,” was created by Jeanna Mead with her husband, Joshua, and uses a touch of optimism to explore how women are expected to tend to their lactation needs in a discreet manner, but aren’t often given the space to do so.
Not far away, in perhaps the most interactive installation of the exhibit, ice melts and an overhead projector offers visitors a glimpse at how eerily similar mineral deposits from water taps throughout the Capital Region are to those of Flint, Michigan.
Created by Jacqueline Weaver and Michael Cunningham, “A Poisoned Well” combines water-testing kits, images of mineral deposits from across the country and test tubes filled with water samples. It makes viewers question whether they actually know what’s in the water coming from their tap — and wonder just how potable it is.
Cunningham and Weaver thoroughly researched water filtration systems around the country, trying to determine exactly what is in the drinking water. They worked on the project, collecting samples from all the places they visited in the United States, while the lead crisis in Flint was making headlines. The news stories played into their concerns about their own water quality and the impacts of water quality on public health.
Over the years they froze some of their samples, and each week, as part of the installation, one sample will be melted over stretched watercolor paper until all that’s left are the minerals, splashed on the paper. The artists also provided water-testing kits that people can take home, along with a booklet about the water cycle, common water contaminants, water elements, poems and more.
The collaborative nature of the work echoes that of others in the exhibition, such as “Substratum,” which runs through the middle of the show.
Created by Janice Medina, Björn Bauer and Carolyn DiFiori Hopkins, the work combines sculpture and film, with wire and crumbling concrete blocks becoming a background for projected images. These dragon-wing-like pieces made possibly of canvas and wood hang above it all.
“In-faux-structure” marks a distinct change at the Opalka. Three artists and curators (Madison LaVallee, Julie Casper Roth and Melissa Sarris) approached Judie Gilmore, the gallery’s director, and first proposed the idea after they realized they were all working on material that explored the idea of infrastructure.
In the past, Gilmore has come up with the exhibition focuses and ideas, but this one was different.
“I am interested in tearing down the walls at Opalka and opening up our space — that is, being responsive to projects and ideas brought to us. When the curators presented their proposed exhibition concept, we were eager to collaborate on a show very different than what we have done in the past. ‘In-faux-structure’ is an experiment for us in a new way of working with artists and guest curators,” Gilmore said.
In line with that thinking, Gilmore is also trying to open the gallery more to the community with a host of events this fall, including a pop-up beer garden and a bike tour. The beer garden will run every Friday from Sept. 6 to Oct. 4, with beer from Capital Region breweries and live music. The evenings will be centered on a large porch made from found materials that are part of the exhibition. Created by Sarah Kayhart and Sadie Kenyon, it echoes the front porches found in downtrodden neighborhoods, with its tin roof and cobbled-together material, and it makes for the perfect jumping-off point to the exhibition.
Here’s a quick look at some of the events coming up at the Opalka Gallery:
From 6-9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 6, there will be a reception with Tolley working on live screenprinting. That will also be the opening night of the gallery’s pop-up beer garden featuring Druthers beer and live music from Joe Barna’s “Sketches of Influence” with Stacy Dillard.
From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, artists Melissa Dorn and Kate Schaffer will lead an interactive event focused on community self-care.
For information on the exhibition and on upcoming events, visit opalka.sage.edu.