‘INVERSION II’ 1520 spruce 4x4s, acrylic, oil paint (floor chart), audience, by Amy Stacey Curtis.
Grand vision tensely coexists with tight control and attention to details in Amy Stacey Curtis's installation "SPACE." Every two years from 2000 to 2016, the artist is creating large-scale multi-part installations in former Maine mills. Themes have included movement, sound, and change. This year it is space — in many aspects.
Comprised of nine individually titled installations, "SPACE" occupies three relatively raw spaces of the otherwise renovated former Carleton Woolen Mill, now the Winthrop Commerce Center. Entering these spaces feels like joining another dimension where time has slowed down. But first visitors have to read the warning notices about entering at your own risk, carrying a cellphone for emergencies per fire code, and so on. The artist's voice in this and all other instructions pertaining to the pieces is halfway between concerned über-mother and strict lab director. Of course we appreciate her concern for our welfare and that of the work, but the detailed information and pronouncements of the do's and don'ts come close to being excruciating. For Curtis, the works would not be complete without these instructions, nor without the audience's participation. That may be true figuratively speaking, but practically it only applies to a few of the installations.
'PLACE' 1080 slate tiles, acrylic, audience, by Amy Stacey Curtis.
The order of experience in "SPACE" is specified by the artist. "flux IV" consists of a row of 99 square posts, painted white, arranged by diminishing height. Participants are asked to don white gloves and move a metal ball onto the next lower post. Sounds straightforward enough, yet the surprise lies in the steel ball's considerable weight and the relative instability of the target posts. Audience participation becomes evidentiary in "inversion II" and "place." The former gets relocated and transformed from a convex into a concave shape; the latter requires turning over slate tiles that are colored differently on either side. With each engagement these two pieces near their preconceived completion.
In "undulation IV" we leave behind a wake of movement in a field of energy, as a multitude of dowels suspended from the ceiling register our path. "labyrinth VI" requires trust, total surrender, and disregard of logic while following the artist's auditory instructions for moving through a floor grid.
"SPACE" overall feels like a labyrinth without walls but with tightly controlled paths. Some elements may make participants feel like lab rats in a highly regulated experiment, while others allow for some creativity, even a sense of play. Both these extremes are successful in their own way. The work I found least engaging depended on relatively passive participation, such as the box-like "interval II," which participants enter at mid-point to approach lights at either end of its dark interior to a droning soundtrack. However, the last piece, "progression III," is something of a coup de théâtre. While we manipulate space in most of the other installations, here roles are reversed in an all-body experience that takes participants down the rabbit hole.