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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Elegance, Wit and Gravitas Inform Heidi Kumao's Work

In 2011 Visual artist Heidi Kumao broke her back while sledding. During the slow convalescence, Kumao spent many hours lying on her sofa staring up at the ceiling. She describes it as like being “Underwater looking up at a layer of ice.“

Her film, Swallowed Whole, which was featured in the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Black Maria Film Festival, Tricky Women International Animation Film Festival, the Atlanta Film Festival and just won Best Experimental Film at the 13th Annual Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto is a wonderfully evocative portrayal of this personal calamity.

Kumao employs striking images and interesting techniques in her filmmaking. For instance, at one point, she makes the film frames thwack down like the lenses in an ophthalmologist’s phoropter to emulate the crashing down to the ground of her airborne sled.

She uses stacks of books, cookies and lifesavers to recreate the impact and shattering of vertebrae, and later on, melted ice cubes. These ordinary items are amusing and very effective stand-ins, adding a breath of fresh air to this grave and beautiful film.

The final shot—taken in the Arctic Circle—features Kumao standing on an ice floe, a lone, fragile figure in this inhospitable and awe-inspiring landscape. It’s a humbling and haunting image.

Egress, inspired by Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, is another compelling film by Kumao. It’s actually a gallery installation as it includes a blank book-shaped stack positioned to one side. Images are projected on the books so they appear as if bound in gold tooled Moroccan leather and subsequently, the Iranian flag effectively signaling the change from valued literature to government approved tomes. In the film, chador-clad women circle around the stack, like moths to a flame. Indeed, the billowing of the chador’s material becomes the fluttering of butterfly/wings. A giant hand, holding a pin hovers and then stabs a butterfly woman pinning her to the wall. But there is a hopeful ending as a woman struggles up a tower to fly a kite, the giant hand returns with giant scissors. They aim for the kite string but somehow manage to cut the dreary smog laden background, which swings open like a squeaky door to reveal a beautiful cerulean sky. It’s a gem of a film: poetic, moving and profound

In her studio Kumao is working with the film snippets she makes and keeps on her computer. To help organize the clips, she sketches images on index cards, which makes it easy to arrange in the order she wants. One wall of her studio was covered with an arrangement of these cards. While they were really just a guide, they provided a striking collage of her personal language of hieroglyphics.

Kumao was also working on two mechanical sculptures that emulate the movement of a little girl’s legs and feet. One set of “legs” stamped its foot, the other seemed to belong to a child lying on the floor pushing its legs back and forth in the throes of a tantrum. The “legs “ were plain metal struts, what made the anthropomorphizing so effective was the addition of vintage mary janes, which also added a whiff of creepiness. 

Kumao’s work showcases her easy and consummate command of her media. It has elegance and gravitas and also these moments of sly humor that add a refreshing lightness to the work.  heidikumao.net

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mary Laube and Paul Schuette's Warp Whistle Project Sound Paintings

Visual artist Mary Laube and composer Paul Schuette met at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) in February 2013 on what was each their first residency. After returning home, they kept in touch making collaborative work remotely and getting together when they could for a few days at a time. 

They refer to their work together as the Warp WhistleProject. Laube and Schuette scheduled recent VCCA residencies at the same time with the intention of exclusively focusing on a project.

The two “sound paintings” they created are visually stunning featuring colorful geometric minimalism paired with lively digital chirps, pitch glides, whooshes and what sounds like some poor sod falling down a well. It’s alien and futuristic and whimsical all at once.

Laube executed the artwork directly onto the wall with the mechanical elements incorporated into the pieces. In one, wire provides a spiral that counterbalances the colored triangles, in the other, straight lines radiate from a 3-D pyramid to the brightly hued round speakers. The pyramids cleverly conceal circuit boards, which generated the sounds. 

Laube and Schuette made a concerted effort to incorporate the electronic elements into the pieces and so obliterate the separation between sight and sound. “It was a very intuitive process,” says Laube. "Schuette started placing speakers on one wall and I started placing triangles on the other. We then worked back and forth between the two pieces to see how the electronic materials could fit into the visual compositions." 

The sound did not come until after the speakers and visual elements were placed—a digital reaction to the visual information. Schuette used a swoopier more glissandi language with the spiral piece and almost pointillist sounds to match the more angular work. He wrote a computer program that is constantly generating new combinations of sound. “The pieces were not composed to ‘talk’ to each other”, says Schuette, “But when you spend a lot of time with them, you feel like they are talking to each other.”

This was the first time Laube and Schuette had worked side by side from the beginning to the end of a project. “In the final analysis, it was a tremendous experience and the collaboration seems to have cemented itself,” says Schuette. “We're both really excited about the future of the work.“

The Warp Whistle Project’s most recent series of work was part of the Emerging Artists show at the Phyllis Weston Gallery in Cincinnati. STEIM a music technology research center based in Amsterdam is interested in Schuette’s four-channel violin pick-up and hopes to make improvements to the design and potentially bring the device to the open market.

Laube received the Illinois National Women in the Arts Award in 2009 and a Project Grant from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2014.