REVIEW: Aldwyth's assemblages are 'rich and complex'

A REVIEW BY JANE G. COLLINS Special to The Sumter Item

If you have ever wondered about the definition of "mind boggling," the current Sumter County Gallery of Art show "Aldwyth: Ebb and Flow" is a great place to start. In fact, the exhibit might have dropped the word "ebb" and just stated "flow and flow and flow." It is a wonder that the gentle, unassuming artist has any time to sleep. Her ideas just seem to consume time and space. On opening night someone made the observation that he didn't "get it." The good news is that "getting it" is not a requirement.

The collages and installations represent Aldwyth's personal attachment to items that evoke an exploration of her observations and insight. In many ways her work corresponds to the current thrust for down playing alphabetic essays and communication and using multi modular formats (loosely translated art, music, dance, narrative, line, design whatever) to capture audience attention and reaction; both the gallery and Gallery 135 have sponsored exhibits of this trend. Exhibiting her work - until recently her own community has not specifically published or presented her work - has not been a motivational issue; her goal is personal development and her artistic journey defined in "Evolution of a Species." The installation focuses on her book notes, including entries on her success and processes. In fact, she acknowledges she even studied taxonomy so she could give things pseudoscientific names.

Her recently assembled collage "Out My Back Door," in the entry hall, serves as an example of her graphic discourse. She used to travel often to New York and loved the 20th-century artists, such as Duchamp, Picasso, Degas and Matisse. Pieces of art work and museum ticket stubs celebrate the time spent. The middle of the piece includes a picture of her octagonal South Carolina island home and an ant, a symbol that reflects the impact of the quirky Jurassic Museum of Technology created by David Wilson and a book that portrays an ant making a difficult assent into a tree, growing a creative spore, and then dropping it to the ground to recycle creativity, an important personal image to Aldwyth.

The bottom of the large collage contains some of her personal favorites - Duchamp and the more contemporary Jeff Koons' "Rabbit." The center divides, revealing downward spiraling pieces of what Aldwyth considers her less favorite art. Although she points out that Koons really doesn't do his own art work, just designs it and turns it over to others to complete, the process is not new, reflecting the Renaissance painters, who once they had achieved notoriety would let emerging artists complete the work to gain experience.

Aldwyth's work, however, is personal, stemming from her own imagination and preferences. In fact, collages like "About Work," with its numerous puzzle pieces spelling "work," and "Re-sume," a series of x-ed out boxes detailing some of the opportunities she did not get but checking one box labeled "work," reveal her dedication. Her "Cigar Box Encyclopaedia" features 26 alphabetized cigar boxes and a catalog that enumerates the letters and words depicted. For "A" there is the architecture of the Sistine Chapel, Adam and arms. "L" highlights lips, Liberty, limbs, legs and languid lions. In many ways the boxes are both "coffins" of what has existed and jewel boxes designed to emphasize and celebrate concepts.

Aldwyth's work reflects an interest in the world's DNA where the observer can discover a box filled with carefully arranged dried baby lizards, a form outlined with nails, and the large quilt-like work "Slip, Sidin' Away (1995 and revised 2007-09)" that announces "The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."

Her "Kluge (both a noun and a verb referring to the "ill assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose") Series" redefines Richard Hamilton's 1956 "Just What Makes Today's Homes So Different?" She has removed everything from the interior and window view, keeping stairs, windows and floor and adding a second level with images of artists like Pollock and Warhol, and in "Kluge II" what looks like Duchamp's nude that has already "descended the stair" and is in full speed across the room. They are images defined by work and creativity.

Regardless of the level of discovery, each entry invites observation, mental processing and a sense of wonder at the sheer scope of the exhibit. Although some pieces are on loan and require a "do not touch" approach, many items invite a tactile exploration, such as "This is Not a Chair! Could This Be a Chair?" It includes a redeveloped MOMA catalog to explore the cello back and pictures of chairs in various situations. Her UFO (User Friendly Operator) manuals encourage people to look, touch and ponder.

Sumter County Gallery of Art Assistant Director and Curator Frank McCauley accurately defines Aldwyth's work as "visually stunning, charming and engaging."

Although she may often start with a clear concept and look for items to complete her idea, there is a challenge for those who wish to take it: Open your jewelry box, your tool box, your tackle box, the miscellaneous drawer full of wayward objects. Select five to nine of them. Arrange them in a box or upended baking pan draped with an interesting piece of material or torn pictures. Leave them out to be admired and contemplated. Allow yourself to discover connections, correlations and commentary.

It is possible to visit the gallery's "Aldwyth: Ebb and Flow" one time. It is even more rewarding to return, allowing the mind to ruminate through the rich and complex assemblages that comprise the artist's vision.

Mark Sloan, curator and director of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, will moderate "A Conversation with Aldwyth" at noon Saturday at the Sumter County Gallery of Art. Admission is free, and light refreshments will be served.