The rainbow connection?

A Thousand Invisible Threads: Mapping the Rhizome at Herndon Gallery

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Toby Millman, Access and Closure

Over a century ago, Scottish-American naturalist John Muir saw a connection in our universe. “When we try to pick out anything by itself,” he said, “we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” His thoughts continued to be explored in the current exhibition at the Antioch College’s Herndon Gallery, entitled A Thousand Invisible Threads: Mapping the Rhizome. Eight different artists explore the concept of connection and the rhizome philosophy through photography, video, drawings and other media.

“The artists and their particular works selected for the show exhibit a very high level of craft and a breadth of artistic investigation of the concept of the rhizome, mapping and connectedness,” says Jennifer Wenker, creative director of the gallery and co-curator of this exhibit.

So what is the rhizome?

A rhizome is actually a botanical term, referring to an underground plant stem or rootstock that grows horizontally and has many offshoots and connected roots. A French philosopher and psychoanalyst used that object 30 years ago as an analogy and name for a new philosophy.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari referred to the rhizome as a model for culture in which things do not always have a cause/effect or beginning/end, but are a mass of “ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences and social struggles.”

They first introduced this social concept in their analytical two-volume work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The first volume, “Anti-Oedipus,” was published in 1972 and set forth the following theory, according to the publisher: “Western society’s innate herd instinct has allowed the government, the media, and even the principles of economics to take advantage of each person’s unwillingness to be cut off from the group.”

Eight years later, the pair published “A Thousand Plateaus,” continuing their social analysis and introducing the rhizome philosophy.

In their book, they state, “Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature…The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills.”

Deleuze and Guattari continued the analogy of the rhizome to explain how they viewed culture and history.

According to the peer-reviewed online journal Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, “Rather than narrative history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a ‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’ The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.”

From philosophy to art

The idea to represent the rhizome in a Herndon art exhibit came from Wenker. It was the result of several different thoughts or connections that were swirling around her at the same time: an autobiography of a conjoined twin, the idea of “quantum entanglement” where entangled physical particles still affect one another despite being separated by distance and Gregory Bateson’s “ecology of the mind,” a holistic approach to thinking without separated systems—just to name a few.

“My goodness, then, someone sent me a video of a starling [type of bird] murmuration—a breathtaking impossible multiplicity acting as a singular body—and I knew there was a show,” Wenker says, “about all the threads of attachment that we don’t see, that escape our awareness, that cause us to believe we are only singular, that are part of a web of complexity beyond our imaginations.”

The artists

Each of the artists invited to be a part of the exhibit are accomplished artists in the middle of their career. Many are from the Midwest area.

There are digital video stills by Juan-Si Gonzalez, showing “glitches” in the digital matrix. Leah Stahl also shows glitches but in her own cerebro-neural network, using experimental camera-less photography.

Cynthia Gregory explores her mental archives with collaged drawings of delicate roots and rhizomes, maps and threads, while Mari Andrews shows haiku-like sculptures that she calls “three-dimensional drawings,” combining natural objects with linear man-made materials.

Michael Casselli, who serves as co-curator, displays his hybrid experimentation in media with a mixed media performance installation.

Toby Millman uses paper cutouts —some paired with text and some purely visual—to relate her viewpoint of her travels and research in East Jerusalem and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Tom Fruin collected more than 5,000 heroin baggies from neighborhoods in New York’s Lower East Side to create a quilt-like sculpture, contrasting the illicit thrill of drugs with a symbol of American warmth and security.

Finally, Candace Hicks explores the concepts of coincidence and string theory with hand-stitched texts.

“Individually, each artist’s work is exceptional,” Wenker says, “but in dialogue with each other, the concepts are even more powerfully complex.”

Herndon Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1-4 p.m. A Thousand Invisible Threads: Mapping the Rhizome runs through Nov. 13. The gallery is located in the first floor of South Hall at 1 Morgan Place in Yellow Springs. For more information, please call 937.319.0114.


Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell Nevins
Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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