Art encased in memories

New art exhibit debuts in the Alexander Brest Gallery

Gabriela Lovera

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— A new exhibit is on display in the Alexander Brest Gallery.

Guest Artist Christopher Nitsche showcased his work for the first time at JU on Oct. 4. His exhibit, “Passage/Memory/Transition,”  will reside in the Phillips Fine Arts Building for the remainder of October.

Nitche’s previous works has been exhibited in venues such as Waterworks Visual Arts Center Museum in Salisbury, North Carolina; and the Spartanburg Art Museum in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

To secure the space in the gallery, the artist underwent a rigorous selection process.

“I submitted a proposal for a two-part installation last year, which was accepted by the selection committee,” wrote Nitsche in an email interview. “After negotiating with Professor Benedict, he offered the entire space to me.  This way, I could expand my show to include a range of sculptures and drawings.”

After being selected, Nitsche was given a floor plan of the gallery. He then used this to design the different elements in the exhibit.

“I designed the structural framework using Rhino 3D software,” wrote Nitsche. “I bolted up the frames in my studio, so I could get a sense of the overall presence of the work.”

The exhibit includes 2D and sculptural work, and a large site-specific installation titled the “Liminal Ship.”

Some of the pieces, including “Like Cats and Dogs,” “Over my Head,” and “Just Beneath the Surface” utilize a variety of unconventional materials handpicked by Nitsche.

“My sculptures are eclectic, depending on the media,” wrote Nitsche. “Small dense wall sculptures, built in molds, toys, household items and game parts, which I obsessively collect.  The juxtaposed materials and design are cargo holds that reveal narrative expressions of irony, satire, and personal contexts from deceptively modest forms into intricate constructions.”

Nitsche used ideas from multiple sources such as Victor Turner’s essay “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites” to explore liminality as a concept for the “Liminal Ship” installation.

“Liminality is a threshold state, a time of ambiguity, where those participating in ritual have their sense of identity suspended,” wrote Nitsche.  “I use the ship as a carrier of these ideas and expressions.”

Nitsche encourages viewers of his work to draw on their own memories to create their own unique experience.

“I prefer my art to have an open-ended sensibility, rather than address a literal theme,” wrote Nitsche.  “With the ‘Liminal Ship’ installation, I configure interior spaces with enigmatic floating objects, allowing associated memories to reveal themselves as allegorical signifiers; indications that allow the viewer to contemplate their own recollections when engaging the work.”

Interestingly, the wood utilized to construct the “Liminal Ship” were the remains of debris caused by both Hurricane Irma and Matthew.

“They were fences and building materials that were blown over and discarded after the Hurricanes,” said Gallery Director Jim Benedict. “It is interesting to see this ship come together that is made out of, basically, recycled and cast-off materials that were damaged during the storm that hit Savannah.”

The installation of “Liminal Ship” took longer than any other piece in the exhibit.

“The ship was made exclusively for that location,” said Benedict. “It is a site-specific work that couldn’t exist anywhere else because it was made to fit the proportions, shape, and wall structure of our gallery.”

Benedict assures that featuring guest artists’ work is a learning tool for students, so they can gain knowledge outside the classroom. As a guest artist, Nitsche was able to offer students hands-on experience.

“He worked with our students during the week of installation and students got a chance to know him and help him build the ship in there,” said Benedict. “He also gave a talk to the 3D foundations students about his work and previous works.”

Featuring diverse art installations and projects in the Alexander Brest Gallery gives students a chance to expand their learning experience.

“If we see that our students would benefit from seeing new ideas in installation art or things that are hard to cover in the timescale of a semester, then we can do all that through the gallery,” said Benedict. “The gallery is an extension of the classroom, it is a teaching tool.”

Alyssa King, a senior ceramics major, says working with Nitsche side-by-side in the gallery was a gratifying experience.

“Gallery set-up experience is a skill that I can put on my resume,” said King. “It was an excellent networking opportunity. I met an artist and I got to connect with him, so if I need help with sculpture projects in the future, I’ll basically have someone to shout out to.”

In addition to aiding students, featuring guest artists is also a nice change of pace for visitors of the gallery.

“I want visitors to take time to view works of art that may be challenging,” wrote Nitsche. “I am interested in people reflecting on the objects and drawing their personal conclusions.”