Exhibit at Miller Gallery is intriguing

Friday afternoon, on the way home from the last class of the week, make a stop at the Miller Gallery. The current exhibition Maximum Minimum in Unum is an eclectic collection of fascinating pieces in a wide variety of media by alumni of Carnegie Mellon. The three floors of the gallery offer compelling glimpses into the power of minimalistic art of all forms.

The first floor of the gallery contains arguably the most fascinating piece of the whole show. This exhibit, titled Furthering Cream, was created by the Institute for New Feeling, a company of sorts run by Scott Andrew (MFA ‘13), Agnes Bolt (MFA ‘12), and Nina Sarnelle (MFA ‘12). This installation is a new part of their product line. The main component of the piece is a free-standing wall, from which, on two sides, steel gray soap dispensers are hung. The wall has cutouts on the bottom, and under each cutout is a towel, and under one, a pillow for the face. These two cutouts leave enough space so that individuals may lie underneath the piece. Though visitors to the gallery are not invited nor allowed to do this, on opening night of the show, two anonymous individuals lay in that spot as the production of the cream commenced.

Though I missed the performance, I was more than fascinated by the undertaking of these artists. The “cream,” which was initially released from dispensers on the ceiling, turned the areas around the wall into a cave-like dwelling, with stalagmite-like rock formations. According to the artists, “a geological process that requires hundreds or even thousands of years is compressed into a two-week cycle of regeneration.

In addition to the wall with the cream itself, there was a sample of the liquid in the sort of bottle it is stored in, which has a unique rounded shape described as “boundary-free.” Furthering Cream also showed an informational video about what the cream was exactly. Currently, the members of the Institute for New Feeling are aspiring to open a spa in Los Angeles someday in the future. The overall goal of the organization is to aid in the “development of new ways of feeling, and ways of feeling new.” I loved the intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship, and aesthetics present in this piece, and though I feel like I have a tenuous grasp on its true purpose and use, it still fascinated me.

While not quite so grand and bizarre, the rest of the pieces in the gallery were equally thought-provoking. On the second floor, one of two video pieces called “Burning House,” (by Carrie Schneider BFA ‘01) depicted a small house in the middle distance on a landscape, and the video was a time lapse of the house burning. When I went by, the video was showing a sunrise and there was something weirdly disconcerting and very cool about watching a house burn in such a serene setting. Another piece on the second floor which really caught my eye was Laleh Mehran’s (MFA ‘97) Entropic System: a golden geometric shape with a sharp point was attached to a “drawing machine,” which almost imperceptibly moved the point on the shape around in dark-colored sand, making small lines and designs in a random — dare I say, entropic — way.

I am a sucker for glass art pieces, having a passion for art-making in the medium, so I also really liked Ron Desmett’s (MFA ‘79) Persephone’s Garden. Made from blown glass, cold worked glass, and other media, the piece had an air of a vase having been knocked over, spilling flowers and contents. There is something so satisfying in the beautiful twists of glass.

The show contained a couple pieces in reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Jina Valentine’s (BFA ‘01) piece “Explication de texte: ... SHOT MY SON,” was made in reaction to police violence against young, black men. In her artist’s statement, Valentine acknowledged her inability to empathize with the mothers of such violence as trying to find words to convey the strength of their grief is impossible. Her piece is an homage to how language is limited in its portrayal of such tragedy and unrest. Valentine states that it is incredibly difficult to bridge between sympathy and empathy through just language.

Valentine invites you to take a sample of her piece: a folded newspaper. Instead of clear, legible text, the artist took the phrase “[...] shot my son,” from The New York Times, and magnified it 20 times. On the pages of the newspaper, each of the individual words stand as a composite of hundreds of these scans. The work really forces the viewer to think about what can and cannot be understood, and what emotions can and cannot be truly communicated as hard as everyone may try, which is an important lesson when it comes to relating to others and their experiences.

Numerous other pieces in the exhibit are just as fascinating. It truly is incredibe how so much can be done with so little. The Miller Gallery is open noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.