“New Obstructions” at AS220; “Trash” at 5 Traverse
By GREG COOK  |  October 9, 2008


AS220’s exhibit “New Obstructions” is one of those right-on ideas that seem to come so naturally to the institution. In July, AS220 acquired the Mercantile Block on Washington Street, with plans to redevelop it much as they did with the Dreyfus next door. Over the winter they’ll begin turning it into studios, offices, and live-work spaces, with an anchor ground floor tenant like the Dreyfus’ Local 121.

But before they fix up the joint, artist and AS220 curator Neal Walsh enlisted artist Mike Taylor to help him organize a quick group art show in the former Cogens Printing Services at 135 Washington Street. It feels like a punky version of one of those old Hollywood let’s-put-on-a-show musicals, in which a plucky gang of performers band together to entertain despite a lack of money and time and everyone saying they’ll never be able to do it.

“New Obstructions,” which runs through October 17, is more funhouse spectacle than trenchant, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Taylor’s Hallucinominium is a brightly-colored shack that literally resembles a funhouse. Inside, a strobe light flashes and makes the crazy striped walls and mirrored floor seem to vibrate. Jim Frain suspended crumpled-paper clouds above a light box within a frame of black foam panels printed with white leaves. Walsh and Scott Lapham teamed up on a large black abstract canvas with a peephole in the middle. Look inside to spy an actual table set with cups, plates, and a patch of grass.

The show offers a number of contraptions. Jeremy Radtke concocted a device that, I’m told, will rip ropes through a found nautical painting, tracing its shapes. (See it in action at the October 17 closing party.) Eamon Brown’s The Ventilator is a curvy wooden bench beneath a pair of air ducts that produce electronic hums. Sit down and the sounds merge and hypnotically pulse. Frain and Jacob Berendes collaborated on Our First Million. Stick your head in a hole in a bathroom door and it appears that your head is attached to the body of a green Teletubby. Pull strings and the arms move up and down. The experience is unnerving — and I say that as a longtime Teletubbies fan.

For the most part, the artists use the place to spread out and loosen up, but Richard Goulis taps the site itself for his installation Unfrozen Time Chunk. He collected stuff from around the building to assemble what looks like a random cruddy basement living room. I wish it was more intriguingly mysterious, but it does produce a topsy-turvy confusion between what’s “art” and what’s “real life.”

The show is rounded out by work by Kristina Brown, Natalja Kent, and Nicole Reinert, and Jon Laustsen’s In a World, a model of under-construction roller coastering roads and bridges made from wood and cement sprouting lots of little rebar. It brings to mind the I-195 relocation project, redevelopment in Providence in general, and this building in particular.

The show “Trash” at 5 Traverse (5 Traverse Street, Providence, through October 17) has some of the same magpie sensibility of “New Obstructions.” The artists — Raphael Lyons, Chris Wyllie, Tom Deininger, Joel Taplin, J Dub, Johnathan Derry, and Scott Lapham — are grouped by their use of junk or recycled materials.

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