Julianne Swartz: how deep?

By GREG COOK  |  November 21, 2012

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A wildcard around art these days is the rise of Maker culture, the tribe of hip geeks devoted to DIY tinkering, engineering, electronics, and invention. Via Maker Faires and TEDxTalks, local techies seem to be inventing their own creative universe, parallel to Boston's existing art world.

At recent Maker Faires in Somerville and New York, there was lots of fizz, but the gee-whiz gadgets were often hampered by bugs and a feeling that it would have been nice if the inventors had put a bit more thought into the point of it all.

So along comes Julianne Swartz of Kingston, New York, who merges Maker tinkering with the resonance of fine art. Her show "How Deep Is Your," at DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, feels like indie Sufjan Stevens riffs inspired by the power chords of Richard Serra's carefully propped-up lead sculptures or Olafur Eliasson's fake suns and artificial waterfalls, which were basically Maker projects with Hollywood budgets.

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Swartz specializes in modest, delicate, playful, emo gestures. Spectrum (Double Yellow) is a series of wires, each a different shade of the rainbow, arching from wall to floor. Look closely. There's a gap in the middle of each arch — half an inch of just air. In fact, the ends of the spans are strings, apparently weighted at the bottom and held taut by a magnet attracted to the wire above. Physics sleight of hand produces a little wonder.

Obstacle has a wire arm rising out of a base of rough cement blocks to drag a little brown plastic balloon in a circle on the floor around it. The movement, apparently driven by hidden clockwork, is hesitant, and seemingly more so as the balloon attempts to hurdle a cement lump blocking its path. That hesitancy transforms the rough materials into poignancy.

Swartz's sciencey method produces its share of duds. And she struggles to stay on the right side of heartfelt versus greeting card when she rigs bathroom-sink drains to broadcast affirmations such as "You're amazing in everything you do."

Her biggest piece snakes pipes through the museum, ending in a funnel. Put your ear close to hear a tinny version (emanating from a record player two floors below) of the Bee Gees' 1977 song "How Deep Is Your Love." If you're not a complete cynical bastard, it can offer a little shot of nostalgia and romantic longing.

"JULIANNE SWARTZ: HOW DEEP IS YOUR" :: DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, 51 Sandy Pond Rd, Lincoln :: Through December 30

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Sculpture, museum, Art,  More more >
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