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Artifacts from Self Making at the GreenLion Gallery

Artifacts from Self Making - an art review
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Gallery hours: Fridays 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays Noon-5 p.m.
Closing reception: Saturday, August 27 from 7-11 p.m.

/courtesy of the artist

/courtesy of the artist

/courtesy of the artist


Earlier this year the GreenLion Gallery opened its doors at 150 E Fulton, in downtown Grand Rapids. Recently I visited the gallery to view their current exhibition which includes work from Renee Zettle-Sterling's “Artifacts from Self Making” series. Upon entering the gallery I was immediately impressed by the open, uncluttered space, something that I had given up expecting from GR galleries long ago. The space presents the work of two established, professional artists without visual competition from frame samples, tchotchkes and greeting cards, the other artist in the current show being Victoria Veenstra with “The Conversation Series.”
“Artifacts from Self Making” is composed of dozens of individual objects that posture on waist high shelves along the gallery walls. The objects are at once familiar, things you might find in a kitchen drawer, and foreign as their form or use has been manipulated: a serving spoon that has been pierced with a nickle sized hole which in turn has been ornamented with cast bric-a-brac; nail clippers that have been outfitted with an extension of teeth; or earbuds where the speaker unit has been replaced with cast finger tips. Some pieces are a quick read and some pieces require a greater investigation, as a whole they play with our expectations, challenging us to consider other potentials in the objects that we surround ourselves with. In many ways it is akin to digging through that drawer that we toss all the odds and ends into and discovering that they have re-created themselves into to new wonderous things, things that we have yet to discover how to properly use.
I had and e-mail conversation with Zettle-Sterling about the work, the transcript follows:
MR: In looking at the entire body of work in the space I could tell that they were all made by the same person but they also seemed to self organize in a few subset themes, i.e. taking a utilitarian object and removing the utility in some way; or taking an object and reversing its function, the protractor piece for example, but the works are not presented in groupings that reflect those potential themes. It leads me to wonder how is the viewer ideally to interact with the work? Is the experience with each individual object or the collection as a whole? What line of questioning would you hope that a viewer would follow in exploring the pieces?
RZS: I am interested in how we relate to objects in our daily lives. I asked myself how do objects operate in our lives and how are they reflections of us. Objects are typically functional, but they also have the ability to create incredible metaphors, although concrete, allow us to think abstractly. They allow us to think more deeply about our selves and the world around us. I wanted to introduce the viewer to different ways in which to think about or through an object. I hope that the work cast light on this intense relationship. There are different ideas within the collection, but I see the work as one piece. I am presenting the audience with different ideas that deal with circumventing function/altering the function of the object, as well as objects that become more metaphorical such as the piece with the baby spoon, adult spoon and the hour class. This piece and others like it allow the viewer to think about their life in relationship to growing up, time, space, and sentimentality. Objects can also stimulate memory and our senses, creating the intense relationship between memory and experience through association.
MR: I found the pieces that used text read very differently from the rest of the work. Could you speak to your use of text and how that might be different, or similar, to the rest of the work presented?
RZS: The pieces with the text are to shed light on how the object is not fully realized until acted upon. The scissors are static and not fully realized until they are picked up and used. This action physically extends us and makes the object become physically alive—reaching its full potential.
Although the body is not present I have introduced body parts into the work to heighten this idea that objects are an extension of our selves, similar to how the pieces with text operate. Objects can be analogies. For example, a chair can be analogous to our spine or a band-aid is analogous to our skin. And through their use, objects can create an awareness of our selves. I am interested in teasing out of the object those similarities and their ability to create conceptual bridges.
I did not set the work up in these groups, because I felt that it would make for a static display and not allow the viewer to feel the ebb and flow of these ideas mixing into one another. I was concerned that it would also overly state the ideas that I was trying to express. I believe the viewer should have to work a little and make those connections for themselves. It is my hope that the viewer, after having seen the work, takes time to consider more deeply their relationship with the their objects and how transformative and profound this relationship can be. I wanted to encourage them to see that a spoon, for example, can be more than a spoon—it can express universal content, deepening our relationship with the physical world. Also, it is important that the objects be as much about the object as it is the idea or my alteration. I did not want to alter the object so much that it lost its “objectness” or its essence. I hope that the work connects itself to other kinds of object-making and object world
MR: The body, despite not necessarily being visually represented, is key to reading all the work, in some cases limiting the body in some way - obscuring vision, rendering a potential action futile. Would the ultimate experience of the work be a physical engagement with the piece - trying to use the whisk or the scissors? 
RZS: I believe that allowing the viewer to interact with the work would be the ultimate experience, but I feel that this could be the next step in this project or body of work. I think that this current work is accessible to the viewer in that they can relate to the objects having probably used them at least once in their lives. When looking at the work they can imagine what that must feel like or my manipulation must feel. I also wanted to express that sometimes what something performs and what it represents can be different or the same.

Disclosure: The author is an artist who lives and works in Grand Rapids and thereby knows other area artists including some of those mentioned in the article.

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