Familiar objects are made unfamiliar in the latest exhibition to open at Opalka Gallery.
Titled “Terry James Conrad: Object Permanence,” it is a survey of the artist’s work, featuring prints, sculptures and a sound installation. Each was created using found objects, far removed from their original context and retooled.
“It’s the idea of retrofitting something, and a thing having multiple histories. I guess I love that idea of reinventing and just thinking about maybe us reinventing ourselves,” Conrad said.
The New York native previously taught at Skidmore College and, co-founded the preschool/residency called the Round Lake School with his partner Rachel Ziegler-Sheridan. He is an assistant professor and program head of printmaking at the University of Iowa and an Iowa Print Media Faculty Fellow.
“Object Permanence” gives viewers a glimpse into Conrad’s work through the years, including several large presses made from a conglomeration of found objects like recycled tin, wood, paper straws, netting, etc.
“For the past few years I’ve been working on this project where I’ve been making time-based printing presses with found objects,” Conrad said.
These presses, which are sculptures in and of themselves, take a slower approach than traditional printmaking, taking a few days to create a single print. Recycled tin shapes the design of the prints, creating everything from punctures to stains.
The inks and dyes are made from dirt, sawdust, walnuts and metals, creating earthy hues that alter even after the print is removed from the press.
One press, called “Biomarker,” reflects on Conrad’s ongoing collaboration with Joan Bernhard, an oceanographer who studies microscopic marine protists called foraminifera. These single-celled organisms build their own shells and have been found to adapt to extreme weather changes. Since 2017, Conrad has been in conversation with Bernhard about her work and has been creating artwork that reflects on foraminifera.
In the nautical-themed press, viewers find a rough and ready array of netting, tin, tools used on a ship and sample bottles of material collected during a trip out to sea. Nearby, there are also several works from Conrad inspired by the foraminifera, including “Paisley, Foraminifera.”
Conrad will be at the gallery on Thursday evenings throughout the exhibit, creating prints with one of the three presses, and the new prints will be displayed nearby.
Beyond prints, there’s also a sound installation that Conrad created last year, delving into an art form that he had since left behind.
“Maybe 15 years ago I was getting out of school and was interested in sound and music and then I kind of stopped doing it but over the pandemic, I started playing music again,” Conrad said.
Called “Interstitial Plains,” the percussive installation features instruments made from tin cans clanking, either against one another or as they’re struck by wires and brushes. Each section of the installation is powered an electric motor, and the sound is controlled using amps. Two large speakers bookend the piece, which stretches out across a long white wooden table.
Also on display are several guitars that Conrad has created, including one made from a vintage cigar box with the word “Corona” printed on the side.
At the heart of the exhibit is “The Iowa Booth,” a large structure of eight canvas screen printed panels that create a circle with a gap for an entrance. The structure is inspired by an early voting booth design and it’s slated to become a sort of broadcast booth, as Conrad will introduce guests like Bernhard, artist Donté K. Hayes, musician Tommy Santee Klaws, and conservationist Silvia Secchi during a series of virtual events called “Dispatches from the Iowa Booth.”
“It’s basically a space about sharing, totally the opposite of making your decision in secret,” Conrad said.
It’s also a reflection of the exhibition title.
“Just because it’s not there in front of us doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Conrad said. “Just thinking about all the things in the world that are happening and not feeling connected. I think there’s a lot of levels to the timing that made me think of the title even as a metaphor.”
A more direct interpretation of the title is found in the 3D works of “Manipulatives One.” The former is a series of several small manipulatives or toys, each made using two rectangular conglomerates of recycled materials linked by laminated paper. They can be twisted and turned to create different poses and shapes, remade and reinvented. There’s a box to store them in nearby, with a slit in the top for only the paper to stick out, hiding the rest of the manipulative underneath, just out of sight.
“Terry James Conrad: Object Permanence” will be open through March 13. Opalka Gallery is located at 140 New Scotland Ave., Albany. Hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and 12-8 p.m. Thursdays, or Mondays by appointment.
Schedule of virtual events:
Weds. Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m., Artist Lecture
Thurs. Feb. 11, 7 p.m., Silvia Secchi, associate professor of Geographical & Sustainability Sciences, University of Iowa
Thurs. Feb. 18, 7 p.m., Dr. Joan Bernhard, senior scientist, Geology & Geophysics Department, University of Iowa
Thurs. Feb. 25, 7 p.m., Musician Tommy Santee Klaws
Thurs. March 4, 7 p.m., Artist Donté Hayes
Thurs. March 11, 7 p.m., Interdisciplinary artist/musician Brian Dewan
For links to each event, visit opalka.sage.edu.