Richard Knight's <i>Strand</i> features lanterns and found objects.
Every three years, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art starts to resemble a menu item at the Old Fashioned: the Wisconsin tasting plate. The transformation happens during the Wisconsin Triennial, which is a great way to sample art being made around the state.
The 2013 Triennial (Sept. 21-Jan. 5) features works by 35 individual artists and five collaborative pairs, with contributions ranging from oil painting and printmaking to ceramic sculpture and video art. But some of the most fascinating pieces will be installations. Several are site-specific and may never exist in the same form again.
I got to see some of these works during the assembly phase. Richard Knight's Strand, which dangles in the glass-flanked stairway overlooking State Street, captured my attention immediately. Made primarily of found objects, including wires and string, this three-story-tall installation could also be considered a sculpture. Branchlike protrusions extend freely in some spots and snarl together in others, ensnaring bits of chain and other industrial materials. The piece's shape recalls both nature (a forest) and technology (my hopelessly tangled computer cords), and at night, colored lanterns radiate a calming glow that counters the piece's chaotic appearance.
"It's like a giant line drawing in space," says museum director Stephen Fleischman. "It's a very organic piece that's site-sensitive."
On the second floor, I couldn't look away from Jason S. Yi's That Hollow Feeling, which has the color of flames and the cascading form of a waterfall. It also uses manmade materials to explore natural shapes. Though the piece looks a bit like a volcano, it's made of orange plastic fencing.
"Part of doing this event is picking good artists, giving them space and then letting go of control," Fleischman remarks, noting Yi's talent for creating captivating things out of unusual materials.
Nearby, Chele Isaac examines something unnatural in her installation The End of Angels. I could tell the final product will have an eerie presence. When I peered through its porthole, illuminated blue objects seemed to float. Isaac says these figures will appear and disappear as a film is projected in the space, which functions like a haunted diorama. The scene is a reference to a magic lantern, a type of projector invented in the 1600s.
"In the early days of cinema, the people who became filmmakers were magicians first," Isaac explains. "They would do these projections of actors in the orchestra pit, and people would think [the images] were really ghosts and run screaming from the theater.… So there's this interesting connection between the material, the actual and the cinematic world."
With images such as a shopping cart brimming with feathers, the installation's film is a nod to Surrealism or its forebear, Dadism.
"It's a slight homage to Duchamp, looking through a door to another world," Isaac says.