Is it still a gift or is it a taunt, a tease of what you might get?
Perhaps the answer can come from Dan Steinhilber’s large-scale, untitled piece constructed specifically for the opening of the Raleigh Contemporary Art Museum. Reminiscent of a discarded grocery bag stuck on, and blown full, over a city sidewalk subway vent, its points and planes climb the air here and there, pushing toward the ceiling; creating a misshapen world with its secrets held within.
We are asked to see anew the Plastic, that ubiquitous modern and maligned substance that has remade our world for good and ill. Steinhilber titled his CAM show, “Hold on Loosely,” a phrase that contains multitudinous interpretations, but I deconstruct this way, with the help of contemplation within his piece: “Hold on loosely” holds within it an admonition for us to stay close, to the beauty of the ordinary — the yellows and blues and reds of modern detritus. See and look and take in the beauty of of our objects, and do so wholeheartedly, not ironically. “Loosely” the adverb, describing so many of our actions in a tenuous world — we feel the need to connect but seem to be able to do so only half-heartedly, our gadgetry and complexity a barrier. And finally “hold”, with its dexterous duality, where a hold is both a hug and a containment, where our freedom is blocked and our physicality is cornered involuntarily.
Did I mention that it is FUN, too? Because it is.
There is the serendipity of its inside-ness: enter through the torn off back of a refrigerator, pop the door open and a world of color appears; blues and greens and reds and yellows jump, twinkle like stars and wiggle like the inside world of a cell, of a ganglia in the brain. The colors give great eyegasm. Floors and ceilings covered with bits of plastic, a carnage of color, as if you were swallowed by one of Chis Jordan’s haunting birds before death.
Steinhilber mesmerizes you within the belly of Consumer Culture’s ruins. It is as if the use of these plastic materials is to remind you, that here, through the looking glass, we are trapped by plastic’s yin-yang, its good/evil. Perhaps this piece, with its beauty warm womb, is a reminder that we are not just using plastic, it is using and playing us, laughing at us from its Texas-sized island in the ocean.
Maybe the groovy irony of Steinhilber’s piece is its potential ephemeralness, that it was created inside the CAM, a site-specific piece with a believed lifespan of End of April to the 22nd Day of August, while its plastic parts remain eternal as they resist the forces of wind rain sun for eternity until something anything everything combines to undo the secretive chemical bonds.
The piece is real and interactive; it’s Art you walk around in. It must give you a sweet physical sensation, yes? It does, indeed, but not a peaceful one.
In fact, its inside-ness comes without peace. The Amococo piece brought to Fayetteville Street during Artsplosure allowed for such things as peace. Steinhilber’s creation gives a gut of beauty but not serenity. It is fun but exists for more than sublime beauty. Lying in the Amococo sculpture calmed me and I fell asleep. On my back in Steinhilber’s piece, I dreamed while awake. The blues put me in the sky; the yellows placed me within the sun’s rays, a mellow bolt traveling about the galaxy.
Oh. There’s a lawn mower, too, off to the side, stuck in a compartment, a charming incongruity that reminded me that something needed to chop the plastic; I kept my distance from it, understanding that it could both create and destroy.
I emerged from the piece and took my stroll about CAM, seeing the other art now backlit by my plastic dreams, feasting on the abstractions about me, many of which will leave and be permanent fixtures on a wall elsewhere in time space place.
But perhaps not this large white plastic thing with unreachable pockets punctuated by blown bits of colorful plastic. This may be its one place; its one life. How then is this a gift to the future? The answer is not mine to give. It lies within you, viewer, after “Hold On Loosely” lets you go.
(“Hold On Loosely” is at the CAM, 409 W. Martin St., Raleigh. Visit Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Admission is Five Dollars but free for state students and faculty.)