Inspired by the ways in which COVID-19 has limited and transformed our in-person access to and experience of galleries, festivals, museums, and other designated art spaces, Brief Encounters with Art investigates the power, potential, and complexities of encountering art in passing moments and unexpected locations. If you have suggestions, ideas, or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].
I’ll start with a confession. While I have viewed and reviewed Weiskamp’s Lightbox art installations many times, it has always been in passing (literally and figuratively). A quick glance while stopped at a light. A longer look at the work on social media before I post a SPlog about it. When I have been inside Weiskamp Screen Printing, I always make sure to stop and take a look. But during these days of limited access to art, this outward facing window installation takes on a new importance it might not have otherwise. My encounter, like the photos taken during it, were surprising and far more telling of the larger context that I could have imagined.
Location: Weiskamp Screen Printing’s Lightbox, 312 S. Neil Street
Installation format: Multiple pieces of 3D art in various materials set up like a window display.
Artist: Gregory Stallmeyer
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stallmeyer earlier this year. In fact, his was the last studio visit I made before the pandemic. Among this collection of work are pieces I have seen in process and others I have seen only as a collection raw materials. I was excited to see what he had been up to. Though this installation was also a bittersweet reminder of the work that should have been shown at the 2020 Boneyard Arts Festival, where his work, Nexus, was honored as the signature image.
The 40 North Facebook post announcing the arrival of Disunion offered few words, but several very telling photos were posted as a collage. It is a collection of works that, in this reviewer’s opinion, represent the range of Stallmeyer’s interests, techniques, and materials. The theme of disunion is made clear in the composition. It is a title which, intentionally or not, speaks volumes about where we find ourselves today. The figures stand socially distant from one another and from the art.
To learn more about Stallmeyer’s process and approach, check out my previously mentioned interview here.
Lightbox is COVID-19-friendly location. It is outside and affords room for social distancing. It can be viewed in passing, from bus, car, or on foot. There is significant sidewalk space for viewing up close. Standing before the installation, and considering the theme inferred in the title, I better appreciated the collage approach above. An attempt to take it all in from a wide view practically takes one off of the sidewalk. The photos I took were focused on capturing components and angles, rather than the whole.
If one isn’t familiar with Stallmeyer’s work, or hadn’t seen the social media post from 40 North, there would be no way to identify the work or the artist (or none that I could see). This leaves only the : lightbox logo on the window to assist a motivated viewer in their potential Google search.
My brief encounter, in brief:
I set out on this cloudy Saturday with a few errands to run, my visit to Lightbox being my last stop. I drove past, parked, and walked back to settle in for some serious viewing. The longer I stood, the more aware I became of my surroundings. While the white walls and quiet surrounding a gallery or museum attempt to seal us off from the outside world and its distractions, Lightbox, and our encounters with it, are a literal reflection of life in midtown Champaign.
Each individual encounter, whether brief or not so brief, is shaped by some unique combination of weather, traffic, and urban planning. During my visit, the cloudscape provided dramatic backdrop from which the mannequin figures emerged goddess-like. The contrast between heavy weather and brilliant luminescent paint, reflected first in the window and then in my phone camera, contributed a new layer of meaning. Disunion stood as a testament to the power of color and the possibilities of reused materials stood. And however briefly, its impact on this gray day, this unassuming street, and my meh mood were transformation.
While snapping my pics I became aware of two oncoming pedestrians. I put the camera aside and took my social distance. I tried to be discreet as I anxiously awaited this opportunity to view their brief encounters. And to my great disappointment they walked and talked and made their way purposefully down the street without once turning toward the installation. Perhaps they walked this route on the daily and had had their fill of this installation. Perhaps they simply had to be somewhere and couldn’t stop. Maybe it appeared to be just another window display. We’ll never know. And that’s okay.
I was immediately delivered my reverie by the blaring of an ambulance. And though on foot, on the sidewalk, I had the urge to step aside and make way for the emergency. Remaining close to the building, I walked on and soon found my attention captured by a Carvana delivery. And with that, my brief encounter was over.
It was strange to think that during of my brief art encounter someone was facing a life and death crisis, someone else was anxiously awaiting the delivery of a shiny new car, and two someone elses just kept going on with their day. And stranger yet to realize this has always been the case, but we are usually protected from this knowledge by walls. In short, it was a cloudy Saturday afternoon in midtown Champaign on a street where there is little natural lingering. There are no adjacent coffee shops to visit which might inspire a brief bit of art encountering. In COVID-19 times, lingering might be a luxury we can’t always afford.
Within Lightbox, Disunion stands a part from and as a part of its location. My encounter was shaped by my purpose and my openness to creating photos that were hybrid art portrait cloudy cityscapes. For others, it may be best experienced in passing. A surprising blast of energy, color, and form injected into a cloudy day during a dark time.