Mitosis is…

visuals

Multiverse exhibit divides and conquers at UD’s Radial Gallery

By Morgan Laurens

Photo: ‘Multiverse’ by Natalie Lanese at UD’s Radial Gallery through Feb. 16

There’s something alien about Julie Abijanac’s “Poumon Noir.” The dark, amorphous mass juts out intrusively from the left wall of the Radial Gallery, a black hole lying in wait, startling you from the periphery of your vision as you walk through the doors of Radial Gallery’s Multiverse exhibit.

“Poumon Noir” (French for black lung) is a paper sculpture, one of many in this exhibit; but it is less an exploration of space and light than a scientific curiosity—an organ trapped under glass, flooded with preserving fluids, and shelved in the dim light of a laboratory. From far away, it looks like a rock formation, a giant piece of chipped obsidian sucking up every bit of light for miles around. When you get closer, you realize that this thing is practically breathing. 

Abijanac’s relief sculpture is made up of thousands of tiny paper circles, hand cut, and piled on top of one another, one by one. Her work—like the work of the other artists in this exhibit—relies heavily on the use of repetition.

“All of these artists are using repetition as one of the major hallmarks of the ways they create unity in their work,” says curator Emily Sullivan Smith. “This idea of ‘the multiverse’ has to do with this notion of multiple permutations and possibilities for existence… So it’s tangentially related to the idea of repetition.”

The works in Multiverse examine the macrocosm by way of the microcosm—common systems, large and small, made evident through the process and practice of duplication. Karla Hackenmiller’s abstract prints magnify the microscopic world of neurons and firing synapses through lithography. Susan Li O’Connor’s tactile sculptures resemble faceless furry sea creatures and are created from thousands of pieces of rolled masking tape.

It is the title piece of the show, though, that really screams at you from across the gallery with its bright, horizontally cascading zigzags. Artist Natalie Lanese hand paints right onto the surface of the gallery wall and uses panels to stack identical patterns on top of one another, creating a door-like illusion. The effect is mesmerizing, like waves lapping into the infinity of the horizon or TV static crashing over an empty channel. To some, it’s meditative; for others, getting lost in that world is truly terrifying. We’ve all seen the image of a child sitting alone in the dark, one hand resting tentatively against the white-noise surface of a television screen: don’t gaze too long into the abyss, kid, or you might find it gazing back into you.

On the other hand, peering into the void can also be revelatory. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her mid-30s, Abijanac quickly abandoned the use of toxic materials in her art-making in favor of fiber and recycled paper.

“When I got sick, and I was told that I couldn’t paint anymore and I couldn’t make jewelry anymore… it forced me to [consider] materials I would never use,” she says. “I became very fascinated with the idea of cancer metastasis, how cells grow and multiply, and as I kept studying this, I became really interested in taking design elements out of the cell structures and then recreating them.”

Taking inspiration from the intricacy of blood-smear patterns, Abijanac notes that the test—used for the diagnosis of cancer and blood disorders—is particularly beautiful when injected with red or blue dye, a common practice for clarity beneath a microscope. Her own work remains free of color. It is presented entirely in chords of white, cream, and black, almost settling back into the gallery walls like a faint embossment. “I didn’t want it to feel aggressive… I wanted it to sneak up on people, like it’s something growing inside of you, and you have no idea,” Abijanac confesses during the exhibit opening talk. She’s standing in front of “Over Expression,” a looping, flower-like relief that sprawls across the entire right side of the gallery. The paper is a warm, soothing cream color against the milk white of the wall, but it’s aging process is already beginning to show; it will eventually yellow, subject to the same decay that our human bodies experience.

The trio of sculptures near the door, “Petulance: Stage I, Stage II, Stage III,” most literally describe Abijanac’s personal struggle with cancer. Faux pearls are lumped and mounded together around necklace display busts, forming a progressively aberrant mass that culminates in near mutation in the last sculpture. The whole thing is beautifully garish, both repellent and inviting. The true weight of the exhibit lies in Abijanac’s ability to lay silent traps within her beautifully constructed sculptures. You don’t realize how skillfully she has orchestrated the set-up until it’s right on top of you.

Recounting an unpleasant encounter with a faculty member of a university where her work was being shown, she says, “He was irate with me because his mother passed away from cancer, and he couldn’t understand why I was glorifying [cancer]… I’m not saying it’s beautiful—trust me, I’ve been through it. But it’s secretive, it happens without you knowing. There’s beauty in its design, naturally, but it’s designed to kill. I’m trying to emulate that quietness.”

The slow burn pays off in dividends. By the time you swing past the far end of the gallery, you realize it’s much too late to turn back.

Multiverse runs through Thursday, Feb. 16 at UD’s Radial Gallery, on the second floor of Fitz Hall, 1529 Brown St. in Dayton. It is free to the public. For more information, please visit JulieAbijanac.com, NatalieLanese.com, SusanLiOConnor.com/home.html, or udayton.edu/artssciences/academics/artanddesign/gallery/index.php.

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Morgan Laurens
Reach DCP freelance writer Morgan Laurens at MorganLaurens@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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