Myoda and Pender in ‘Illuminations’ at Chazan Gallery

Tricks of the light
By GREG COOK  |  January 24, 2012

Paul Myoda's kinetic sculptures are beautiful and unsettling. These Glittering Machines are assembled from aluminum, thermoplastic, LEDs, motors, microprocessors, and circuits into devices that evoke sci-fi probe droids, the movie Alien, jellyfish, chandeliers, and recycled skeletons. Motion sensors trigger motors that buzz like little wasps and lights that flash in seeming recognition and then warning.

In the two-person exhibit "Illuminations" at Wheeler School's Chazan Gallery (228 Angell Street, Providence, through February 2), his sculpture Sickle #2 (2012) looks like a lantern, made from clear plastic casts of spinal vertebrae suspended from a plastic arm that curves horizontally back to a spiky, hive-like bulge with another light inside. The lantern projects flowery kaleidoscope designs onto the floor and shapes that resemble hipbones and a spine onto the wall. Thorny Sconce (2010) looks like a cross between a puffer fish, a cactus, and a pre-fab plastic wall lamp. It's covered with threatening spikes and flashes light as you get near. But it projects a soft, bubbly, or cell-like pattern across the wall.

Myoda, who has taught at Brown since 2006, is best known for a memorial he co-created to mark the September 11 attacks. He and collaborator Julian LaVerdiere had been artists in residence in a 91st-floor studio in the World Trade Center's north tower until just weeks before the attack. Afterward, seeing floodlights used by rescue workers illuminating smoke billowing from the wreckage, they conceived the Tribute in Light, which has become an annual memorial featuring columns of light beamed into the sky from the World Trade Center site. The lights seem like phantom towers, beacons, or lasers of doom from an alien invasion flick like Independence Day.

Here the scale is more modest. "Taking cues from various bioluminescent animals and insects," Myoda writes, "these behaviors range from attraction to repulsion, camouflage to revelation, predictability to spontaneity." Borderline Personality Disorder #1 (2011) suggests a plastic, abstracted mounted deer head. A mechanical arm with a light on the end reaches in and out, projecting shadows of the piece's three, clear plastic sets of antlers — which on reflection look more like tree branches — across the wall. And then a light behind the thing flashes in your face, blinding you. There's something ominous and threatening in the way the robotic arms bend toward you and the lights beam at you. And the motions are unpredictable. Beware.

VISION THING Pender’s Extramission.

Also featured in "Illuminations" is Providence artist Stefanie Pender's installation Extramission. On each of four wood pedestals, facing in four different directions, she has set up a small spotlight that shines through a glass cast of her eye and then a convex lens. Onto the wall, they project the eyes, like ghost images tinted faintly blue or red. The eyes are open but have no irises. And the casts take advantage of the way glass can look like water to give the impression that the eyes are made of melting ice. All of this is promising, but the project seems like interesting technique in search of a substantial subject. The title apparently comes from the Greek philosopher Plato's (incorrect) idea that seeing involved rays of light projecting out from our eyes. So there's a theme about glasswork and eyes and lenses for Pender here, but it feels like the illustration of an idea, a diagram of it, rather than something that opens up into bigger thoughts.

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Related: Uneasy artifacts at the Chazan Gallery, Agata Michalowska’s ‘dom’; ‘Surfacing’ at the Chazan Gallery, The outside world, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Wheeler School, Chazan Gallery, Chazan Gallery,  More more >
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