The Surface and Below artists create larger than life work

By Hailey Washington

As viewers entered the O’Connor Art Gallery on Sept. 17, they were thrown into a playful, animated exploration of bodily movement and media combination.

The Surface and Below exhibition was a perfectly fitting title for Claire Ashley and Carmen Harvey’s three-dimensional artworks. It was impossible to not want to interact physically with Ashley’s larger-than-life inflatable installations.

In her artist statement, Ashley cited inflatable bounce houses and floating balloons at parades as her inspiration for her inflatable works. Her sources of inspiration were obvious to visitors in the pieces Big Whoop, Tongues and Parcels of Delight, as well as her performance piece.

Some performers were given the opportunity to interact with these massive inflatable forms. In an upbeat, choreographed line dance, Ashley gathered more than ten dancers and four operators to bring her inflated rabbit figure to life. The dancers were positioned underneath and inside the inflatable rabbit as if they were the legs. As the dancers moved forward and backward, the rabbit figure swayed back and forth, embodying the energy displayed in Ashley’s other works.

Although viewers were intrigued by the exterior surfaces of Ashley’s inflatables, Harvey took it even further with her investigation of what was below the surface. In Harvey’s works, the human body becomes the land of exploration. It is almost as if viewers are placed in an episode of the 1990s animated series The Magical School Bus and are on an adventure inside the human body with Miss Frizzle. Imagery of human intestines come to mind when viewing Harvey’s bumpy spray foam tubular structures. Subdued and muddy tints of gray, brown, pink and tan acrylics add to the imagery of human intestines.

Pillow Talk is one of Harvey’s works that hinted at human anatomy. A stacked combination of a round clump of foam rests on top of a maze of tubular foams to create a representation of how the stomach would be positioned above the intestines inside the human body. Harvey’s pieces Outward Round, Body Electric and Undulating Cleave also communicated movement with foam structures withering away from painted bases.

Both Harvey and Carmen’s works displayed some of American pop artist Robert Rauchenberg’s high-contrast colors and combinations of painting and sculpture. Ashley calls on Rauschenberg in her consistent use of neon paint on unconventional inflated nylons and tarpaulins.

Harvey’s Life is Round and Ashley’s Candied Rib Sucker sculptures prompt viewers’ curiosity. Ashley masked stuffing and wood with a PVC coated canvas in her sculpture. Masked forms below canvas and spandex become a metaphor for how our skin masks our anatomy.

Harvey presents a common concept and construction method in her two pieces. Both appear to mask projecting objects and make references to the human body. The construction method causes viewers to wonder what lies within the interior of the sculptures. Viewers are reminded of how muscles flew below the skin. Elasticity of the spandex mirrors the characteristics of skin, encouraging viewers to interpret Life is Round as a metaphoric abstraction of the human body. Veins below the skin are also another possible interpretation of Harvey’s grid structure beyond the skin-like spandex.

Visit the O’Connor Art Gallery until Oct. 31 to experience Ashley and Harvey’s lively and inquisitive artwork in the The Surface and Below exhibition.

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