One can walk into the gallery at the Arts Center of the Capital Region and simply enjoy the vibrant linear works on display.
Or they can dig deep and “crack” the code.
In “Huelitic Code: Language Through a Prism,” Capital Region artist Michelle Bowen uses color to illustrate language. Picking 26 hues to stand in for letters — “R” is a light pink, “N” is teal, “V” is grey — the artist asks viewers to take the time to look beyond the hues in front of them.
Stripes of pinks, tans, reds, and yellows come together in her paintings to represent words like “democracy” and “love,” highlighting the way that language impacts the way we think.
“When viewers ‘read’ my work, they are forced to build a new relationship with language, and they are also forced to admit its vulnerabilities … an important step towards change,” Bowen’s website reads.
Viewers don’t have to crack the code themselves; they can just turn to one of the key codes provided. After picking up the key, viewers can decipher each word or phrase in the works, some of which are easier to piece together than others.
One of the simplest is a shining three-dimensional work with four squares spelling out “love,” reminiscent of Robert Indiana’s famous sculpture, with the “O” block tilted.
In one of the interactive pieces in the exhibition, Bowen uses small flecks of hues to illustrate quotes about language, from the humorous to the serious: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” by Dr. Lugwig Josef Wittgenstein and “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” by George Bernard Shaw.
The former quote points to the theme of binary oppositions, which Bowen comes back to time and time again in the exhibition.
Four triangles made from vivid stripes of yellow, brown, pink and blue are centered in a sweeping black background. The triangles spell out “North,” “South,” “East” and “West,” referencing the coming together for not only places but ideals.
In another large kaleidoscopic piece, hues come together to spell out “democracy” and “autocracy,” and the center of the piece makes one reflect on how similar those two terms are.
“Only by exploring and exposing the perils of binary thinking can we protect against its destabilizing effects on society and open ourselves up to a more creative and enlightened mindset,” writes Bowen in the label copy.
Toward the end of the exhibition is a series of intensely flecked paintings that are the most challenging to decode simply because of how many hues there are. Each of the canvases features a passage from a religious text, like the Quran and the Old Testament.
While the series is featured at the end of the exhibition, it marks the impetus behind the entire project.
“I was emotionally exhausted from the ongoing terrorist attacks, the spread of hatred ‘in the name of God,’ and the pain of 9/11. After watching the evening news, I thought ‘how can we ‘see’ language differently to stop this insanity?’ and suddenly, I saw words in color,” Bowen writes.
That was 15 years ago, while she was living in New York City. Since moving to the Capital Region and becoming the senior director of marketing and communications at the University at Albany, the Huelitic Code series has grown in terms of depth and breadth; and the Capital Region is all the better for that growth.
“Huelitic Code: Language Through a Prism” is on exhibit through Feb. 2 at the Arts Center of the Capital Region (265 River St., Troy). For more info visit artscenteronline.org.