The chemical makeup of art
Prof. Todd Pavlisko opened up an art gallery at UMass
Tucked inside the University of Massachusetts Boston’s newly constructed University Hall, Brandeis Prof. Todd Pavlisko (FA) proudly welcomed guests to the opening of his art installation “Now’s the Time.” Pavlisko has worked with UMass for a while now; more specifically he has collaborated with Prof. Robert Carter, the director of the chemistry department. In an email interview with the Justice, Pavlisko explained, “[Carter] and I have been using chemistry and science to make art for about a year and a half. The opportunity for the exhibition came out of this collaboration.”
The show, which officially opened on Sept. 8, will run through Oct. 20. It is located in the gallery inside University Hall, which was officially opened by the school in January 2016. “I [began] to make the art for the exhibition in tandem with the University [while] the building was under construction … I knew then that I would make a site-specific installation.”
Upon entering the glass walled space, visitors are greeted by an array of bright and eye-catching works. One of these pieces is Pavlisko’s self-portrait birdcage, which he created in Carter’s chemistry lab.
The sculpture hangs from the ceiling of the space and is comprised of wooden bars shaped to look like Pavlisko’s face. Pavlisko soaked the wooden bars in chemicals to loosen in the lignins in the wood. “This allowed the hardwood to become malleable and gave me the ability to form the wood over molds that I made to fit the profile for my portrait,” he explained.
Also surrounding this giant head are several neon light sculptures which incorporate shoes into their design. Of the neon light creations, Pavlisko explained, “This is a very old technology but yet I believe still very beautiful, and I wanted to use it. These three neon pieces are suspended around the self-portrait birdcage and act as thought bubbles around my head.”
The bird cage was not the only head in the exhibit. On the right wall of the gallery, Pavlisko created a portrait of Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist credited as the first man to ingest and learn about the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). The portrait was created by puncturing over 150,000 multicolored retail tag fasteners into a canvas.
Pavlisko also drew a pencil portrait of Charlie Parker, the saxophonist, hanging rubies on silver chains on the drawing. The rubies “are free to swing like a pendulum and scratch and blur the image of the pencil drawing,” Pavlisko clarified.
Perhaps the most striking part of the exhibit, this portrait is surrounded by thousands of cans of Play-Doh balanced on shelves lining the back wall of the gallery.
“I called the corporation Hasbro and began a conversation with them about my desire to obtain 5000 cans of Play-Doh to use as creative material and conceptual material in the installation,” Pavlisko said .
Pavlisko, who is in his third year of teaching at Brandeis, encouraged his students to attend the gallery opening.
Four students from his Senior Studio class made the trip to Boston. “As for having students at my exhibition, it is very special. Additionally it is very important that they see how their professors make art, given I teach it to them. [The gallery opening is] a very unique space for the student to see and experience the person who is teaching them the intricacies of art in the classroom,” Pavlisko elaborated.
Though the exhibit is partially inspired by Charlie Parker and his song “Now’s the Time,” Pavlisko insists, “It is difficult to put your finger on what exactly inspired the art,” but he emphasizes that “installation art can take on many modes of understanding ... and I appreciate that my audience can take away various meanings of the work within the installation.”