Some artists’ talents lie in their ability to create something from nothing; they generate a new work that resonates with something inside the viewer. Others artists’ talent lies in their ability to transform existing objects; they force us to reconsider what we thought was familiar.
The work Erin Dengerink has created for the current Corvallis Arts Center exhibition, Meditations on Temporality, falls into the latter category. Her list of materials reads like a found poem: branches, beads, bees, buttons, bones, brass… dirt, dice, dogwood seeds… rocks, rubber, roots… wood, wax, wings.
Dengerink is drawn to fragile, used, worn, broken, or even dead materials—objects that make manifest their vulnerability and passage through time. She combines these tiny treasures in unusual ways—a lichen grows through a bolt; blue thread mummifies a seed; a branch shoots from a bead; a marble plugs the aperture of a shell.
The most immediately striking work might be the largest, For All Your Love, a cascade of dried purple flower petals that adorns the wall like a necklace. But it’s the tiny things in the exhibit that reward sustained viewing. Arranged in clusters, they can be experienced as a single unit from a distance, or individually up close. You choose how you will participate.
In an essay in a book that accompanies the exhibition, Dengerink writes, “Art is a tool that we use to examine and explore ourselves, and society. The viewer molds the experience to their needs.”
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that looking at Dengerink’s work made me think about my bunions. In one of the first pieces you encounter in the gallery, For Strength, Dengerink juxtaposes what looks like sliced bone with shells, little blue stones, clear marbles, and rocks. The blue stones stick on the other materials like barnacles. Like bunions, they are an unwelcome growth.
Or perhaps the blue stones are reinforcements? Perhaps with a change in our perspective, our flaws and faults can become a source of strength?
In To Succeed, Dengerink mounts a piece of broken glass like a trophy. In To Make Sunshine, she creates an altar from empty glass bottles and translucent amber-colored pills.
In her artist’s statement, Dengerink refers to her works as both talismans and tools. Her art is both magical and practical. It reminds us, gently and not without humor, that control of our physical surroundings and physical self will always remain frustratingly out of reach, but our thoughts are fully within our power.
Glancing over my shoulder as I leave the gallery, the boundaries of the clear glass bottles in To Bring Rain blur and animate. I choose to believe I have seen the space breathing.
See Erin Dengerink’s work at the Corvallis Arts Center exhibit Meditations on Temporality through Thursday, Feb. 2. On Thursday, Jan. 19, the gallery will be open until 8 p.m. for the Corvallis Arts Walk and Dengerink will present a same-day art talk at 12 p.m.
By Maggie Anderson