The only thing larger than the massive wooden canal barge on display in the Burchfield Penney Art Center is the ambition and reach of the project that got it made. As the centerpiece of the “Displacement: Barge Prototype” exhibit, the structure houses the majority of artwork garnered from 24 initial artists as well as additional pieces selected every other week.
Developed by the group calling itself the Trans Empire Canal Corp. (TECCORP) and assembled with the help of the Burchfield Penney staff, the project strives to display the unseen aspects of curating and displaying artwork, as well as provide the opportunity for the community to collaborate in the process.
Holding “Load-in Thursdays” every two weeks allows new artists to bring in their work for inclusion in the exhibit, which then changes the display of some of the pieces in the exhibit throughout its run. After the first four weeks on display, the exhibit appears to be matching its reach to its ambition, and blooming into a captivating project.
Surrounding the barge prototype are other installations that transform the East Gallery into an ersatz dock for the vessel. To the right of the prototype there is a load-in office, with a cluttered whiteboard, table, chairs and landscape paintings and sculptures leading toward the rear of the ship.
A sound installation about transportation on a portable bike repair cart was added after the opening, and now voices of residents including Mayor Byron Brown echo through the open-air office, providing a slight din to the rest of the gallery.
On the opposite side of the ship is Michael Bosworth’s “Waterline” projection, alongside Gary Sczerbaniewicz’s electrical diorama, which are set in and among wooden shipping containers, cementing a sense of place.
Made up of three large hold spaces that sandwich six smaller bunk-sized rooms, the area inside the prototype barge has a tight but easy flow. Without a crowd, the rooms are spacious and echo. Conversations carry and bounce when full of people, which makes it a bit noisy and a little more claustrophobic, and feels more like being at sea.
Entering from the rear of the prototype, the first gallery includes a sitting area and materials that seem to be made and inspired by discarded objects along the waterway. Liz Rywelski’s enlarged digital prints of shopping receipts are at different places on the walls, as if they blew in through the open ceiling.
The six bunk rooms are small installations that can be walked into or viewed, though at first touching or interacting with some of the pieces was not encouraged. Julian Montague’s bunk of fake posters and existential and apocalyptic reading materials seemed to welcome that kind of interaction, while Kate Gaudy’s simulacrum sea room was certainly for viewing only.
After the second gallery, which is slightly more full now that Snyder’s piece has been moved outside, the forward section of the prototype is darkened in order to screen video art. Alan Bigelow’s “Two roads diverged,” an interactive story of loss and grief made with technical assistance from James Andrix, is the most interesting piece in this section. A 21st century cut-up, the piece contains multiple narratives interacting with the flick of a finger across two screens.
Taken as a whole, ambition is what is on display here, not just of the TECCORP team, but also of the local artists.
This really is a show about a community, a very creative community that looks to meet the ambition and challenge of turning this prototype into a practical collection of art to sail into the future.