This post originally appeared on Rochester City Newspaper‘s art blog.
This world hasn’t lost its wonder and its magic for Sarah Rutherford – in fact she insists upon its presence and will manifest it, conjure it up from scavenged detritus wherever it’s not readily apparent. And those who also feel the sweet tug of the beautiful mystery are drawn to her luminous work like so many sleepy little moths, shaking the dust from their wings and hovering about, fascinated. On Thursday, May 31, a flurry of us swarmed to the lantern-lit preview of her new installation, “Spyglass,”created this time not with art collective, The Sweet Meat Co., but with architect Brandon Colaprete. The show is installed at the former Little Bakery spot on Charlotte Street, which will be the future, permanent home of the nomadic-no-longer 1975 Gallery.
On the approach toward the former bakery from Main Street, viewers first spy a whorl of wood surrounding a window and creating a portal; the other side of the building is illustrated with a dreamy mural of clockwork crows.
Once inside, visitors navigate distorted, twisting walls into a created room within a room, where they step into nooks or peek through globes and various found lenses into wee spaces populated by cut-out figures, animals, bones, books, gears, feathers, and all manner of natural nuance. Weatherworn warrior women stand strong, alone, or make silent appeals to elusive, reliable menfolk.
Coming from a background of painting and drawing, Rutherford says “it was wonderful working with someone who thinks in more three-dimensional terms.” Her creative partner in this exhibition is Brandon Colaprete, an architect with Chaintreuil Jensen Stark Architects, which is the firm behind the Eastman Theatre Expansion & Renovation project. In creating “Spyglass,” Rutherford felt herself starting to think differently about space. “The 2-D objects, the crows/figures, etc., became the same as the lumber – all just parts of a whole piece,” she says.
“Brandon pushed me to work in a more planned manner, at least with the overall concept/building of skeleton, and I pushed him to loosen up,” she says. “This wasn’t a building or a permanent thing we were creating. It was a place to explore ideas and concepts in a more organic way. We were creating something that will be destroyed after two weeks of being finished. I think that freedom was fun for him, but also a challenge.”
The setting feels like a fragile, broken down sylvan cathedral, a sacred spot protected by all things capably feral. And like any stumbling upon the fae world, it might not be there the next time you visit. Above the reconstructed bits of architectural salvage, more clockwork crow illustrations soar among lights and cut paper which casts layers of shadows above and below. A life-sized, seated king-of-the-forest figure presides over the scene, but various beings watch viewers from every direction. Step up to one nook to find a secret boy child on high, spying down on all.
Like all of Rutherford’s endeavors, “Spyglass” is rife with unexpected nuance, and discovering it all could fill many hours. The origin of Spyglass began with a piece Rutherford created for last year’s Sweet Meat Co. installation, “Welcome to Sweetsville,” in which she used lenses given to her by 1975 Gallery owner and fellow Sweet Meat artist, Erich Lehman, to create a little viewing box with materials scavenged from an abandoned warehouse. “I wanted to play with that same idea but on a smaller scale – drawing the viewer into a private, intimate viewing experience,” says Rutherford. “After the show, I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to make a whole room act in the same way – playing with the idea on a large scale and also on a intimate scale.”
Scavenging materials for the art is ever a part of the process for Rutherford and her friends. “It’s what I do, it’s what the crows do, it’s how this show was built. We as artists are scavengers – whether we use found materials or simply scavenge ideas and visual reference from our environment,” she says.
“The crows also have such impact for me as a visual reference for Rochester,” says Rutherford. “They are an integral part of our community and so powerful when they unite as this huge group or murder of birds. It’s in the same way that I look at our community. We are all uniquely beautiful, different, but coming together has its own power that could never be created working alone.” Though “Spyglass” was primarily created by the artist pair, Rutherford says “the wonderful group of people who participated both with labor and with support are both why it exists and what fuels me.”
“For this show, it was important to me that nothing was “for sale,” says Rutherford. “I truly wanted the show to be something that was about the experience and also heavily built around impermanence.” But after working on two Sweet Meat Co. installations, Rutherford was aware of how expensive they can become. Her solution was to create an eventual takeaway component of the exhibit: each person who donates $40 dollars towards the show will receive one of the crow drawings at its completion. “I liked this idea instead of simply asking one or two people to fund the whole exhibit – this way it is funded by the community,” says Rutherford. “They are the reason it exists.”
Rutherford’s breadcrumb trail might soon appear in different cities. “This installation was very much based around the building – its shape and flow, but also based around Rochester,” assembled from “discarded and forgotten pieces of our fine city,” says Rutherford. “I would love to work on this idea in a different city, using its fabric to see how that would translate.”
“For me, this show doesn’t feel “complete”, its an exploration, a part of a whole,” says Rutherford. Each installation feels to her like a chapter from a book – they are completed in a finite period of time, build momentum and background from the last endeavor, and create anticipation for what will come next.
“Spyglass: A Viewing Experience”
by Sarah C. Rutherford & Brandon Colaprete
1975 Gallery, 89 Charlotte Street
Saturday, June 2, 4-10 p.m.
Limited Showings from June 5-16:
Tuesday-Friday 6-9 p.m., Saturday 4-8 p.m.