WHITTIER — Is it stretching the definition of “emerging artist” just a bit to include Gregory Euclide?
Considering Eau Claire’s most famous son, Justin Vernon, commissioned one of Euclide’s horizon-warping landscapes for the cover of Bon Iver’s Grammy-winning second album, the answer is probably “yes.”
But no matter: Euclide’s art stretches into three dimensions, and it’s better seen in person at Minneapolis College of Art and Design than on a rack at the record store. One of five artists selected for a 2011–2012 Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship, he’s in good company in the annual exhibition at MCAD, joined by Jehra Patrick, Richard Barlow, Lauren Herzak-Bauman and Alison Hiltner.
A shimmering wall-sized piece by Barlow is the first thing most visitors will see, so that’s a good place to start. “Pixelated Bromide” is an installment in Barlow’s “Bromides” series, on ongoing visual meditation on a romantic landscape by early photographer Henry Fox Talbot.
In this case, Barlow performs a kind of analog-to-digital conversion of the image — a line of trees reflected in a pond — by shattering it into hundreds of “pixels,” each represented by individual sequins that shift and catch the light. It’s cheeky and a bit campy, a 19th-century photograph dressed-up in Pop Art drag.
Barlow also contributes a series of iron oxide-on-paper drawings of forest scenes that essentially are watercolors made with rust: nature’s majesty seen through the reddish-orange mist of decaying industry.
Now back to Euclide, whose constructions of crumpled paper, various bits of plant life and other materials have a terrarium-like quality to them, the feeling that they contain whole ecosystems in miniature, full of mushroom-covered trees fed by streams that drop over the horizon. He has a model railroader’s fascination with scale, but here the goal isn’t to recreate reality but reach beyond it.
These swirling, whirlpool compositions suggest both the passage of time and interconnectedness across time: Each piece contains multiple scenes and perspectives that flow into one another. The fringes of some compositions bristle with cut paper in geometric patterns that read as the invisible framework underpinning Euclide’s world.
Hiltner, on the other hand, launches us into an entirely different world altogether. She has a particular talent for making the familiar unfamiliar, and here Hiltner applies it to a sci-fi installation piece that is both creepy and fascinating.
A supply canister dangles beneath a parachute that is deflating as it touches down — but where? Earth? Somewhere else?
Peering inside the canister, it’s clearly filled with painted Q-tips set aglow under a black light, but it’s also a weird, alien fungus thriving in its sealed microenvironment. Hiltner doesn’t hide her source material; she’s like the magician who reveals her trick, but still entrances her audience.
Patrick’s territory is the museum, itself, a space she has explored over the years in a series of paintings of empty galleries and installations-in-progress. Her paintings interrogate the spaces that frame our understanding of art, and these look as accomplished as any of her recent work.
This time, Patrick works in a restrained palette, mostly pinks and blues, and gives us just glimpses of hallways, floors and bits of plaster molding. A stepladder, hit by multiple sources of light, factures into a Cubist composition. Prints of Dutch and Flemish Old Master works, magnified beyond recognition or placed one on top of the other, add another, difficult to pierce, layer of meaning.
Herzak-Bauman produces the show’s elegant centerpiece, but she doesn’t give us any easy answers, either. Her materials are simple, just light bulbs on long, black extension cords.
The black cords emerge from wall outlets near the ground and rise together to the ceiling, tracing parallel tracks through the air like lines on a musical staff. They converge in a knot at the apex and fall together in a tangled clump, ending in a cluster of exposed filaments at about eye level. The bulbs (or Herzak-Bauman’s porcelain recreation of them) are scattered on the floor below, spewing black charcoal dust — as if they didn’t just burn out, they blew up.
What should we read in this dramatic rise and fall? It’s hard not to see it as a boom followed by a bust, and one with a nasty shock at the end.