Mind Blown: The Air Show, at Doubting Thomas

Co-curator Tessa LeBarron, It’s More Depressing Than That, presented with text: “What air is to the body, to feel understood is to the heart.”

The Air Show at Doubting Thomas is the third part of a series of exhibitions curated by Shawn Mishak and Tessa LeBaron, focused on the 5 classical elements: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and the ethereal, Aether.  The show asks of the invited group of artists, “What does Clean Air Mean to You?” With that in mind, one might expect overwhelmingly serious content, perhaps about the way a lot of humans have been treating the planet. And there certainly is some of that. The concept also gave several artists a great platform for satire and clever goofing off. Balloons, as it happens, figured bigly.

Ed Raffel, Airection, installation with vacuum pump and balloon

The centerpiece in the front room fit into the latter category, and was a star of the show. Ed Raffel’s magnificent machine, dubbed Airection–used a vacuum pump, controlled by a timer, to periodically inflate a long, phallic pink balloon.  Built inside a white pedestal in the center of the room, with only a chrome collar at the top, the piece was steadily surrounded by the talkative crowd. In its resting state, the pedestal and chrome collar were all there was to see. Then at each appointed interval, without warning to the crowd, the pump would work its magic and the long pink balloon would begin to inflate. It would grow, and grow, and grow, nearly reaching its full pink extension before the pump shut down and allowed it to deflate again, laying flaccid inside the chrome collar.  Then it would lay dormant until it was time for another Airection. Just like Old Faithful. That night and the following day, multiple videos of the Air-rection in action appeared on social media.

Joanie Deveney, Free Blow Jobs, installation and interactive performance

Another highlight in the windy, irreverent vein could be found in the back room, where Joanie Deveney staffed a quaint installation that looked something like a kissing booth with its carnivalesque sign. But instead of kisses, the sign offered “Free Blowjobs.” Joan of Art’s unique performance element involved blowing up and giving away free balloons: round, white balloons, printed with a commemorative message.  

Joanie Deveney, Whistle Blowers Unite, participatory performance

Deveney was responsible for another memorable performance, this one participatory: she distributed free plastic police whistles, each with a little card offering directions to blow the whistle at 9 pm, “No matter where you are!!!” It is unclear how many whistle blowers did the deed off premises, but having been at the gallery at 9 pm I can say with conviction that the volume of approximately a dozen police whistles being blown vigorously all at once in a small Tremont room was one of the most awful experiences I have ever had in an art gallery. But maybe that is just the kind of thing we need to call attention to the long emergency of air quality and general environmental degradation.

Nicole Kaczmarek, Air

Nicole Kaczmarek’s piece, “air,” was a quietly successful bit of dada-ism. She captured approximately one gallon of “100% fresh” air in a Zip Loc plastic bag, labeled it as such, and hung it on the wall. The price: One dollar.

Liz Maugans, It Blows Memorial, installation with pillows and pinwheels

Speaking of blowing, Liz Maugans exhibited the It Blows Memorial—a mixed media sculpture made from 6 red pinwheels with their blades turned up like tulip petals, on green stems planted in a wooden shelf, in front of six stuffed pillows, each printed with a transferred image of a young girl. It is a funny and grim observation that the world we are handing over to subsequent generations is not in very good shape. “It Blows,” as it were.

John Saile, Acid Rain I & II

A few pieces observed specific aspects of that damaged world. In one example–a sharp departure from his familiar abstract works–John Saile, exhibited two blue color fields speckled with golden raindrops, looking like beads of water on a well-waxed car. The titles: Acid Rain, I and II. According to the US EPA, “Acid rain results when sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) are emitted into the atmosphere and transported by wind and air currents. The SO2 and NOX react with water, oxygen and other chemicals to form sulfuric and nitric acids.  These then mix with water and other materials before falling to the ground.” We haven’t heard much about acid rain in the news lately, perhaps because it has been crowded out by mass shootings, police violence, the so-called Big Lie, and other crises, or perhaps because efforts to reduce the pollutants that cause acid rain have actually been somewhat successful. Perhaps this is a story of hope.

Megan Walsh, Deep Breaths

And speaking of hope, Megan Walsh called attention to the air-cleansing power of green plants, and their connection to our lungs, with a sculptural work titled Deep Breaths, in the form of two human lungs. The piece was made from chicken wire, soil, moss, and various plants. It looked healthy on opening night.

There are plenty more beautiful works in the show, which alltogether is part environmentalism, part appreciation, part lament, and part absurdity. Barbara Merrit captured the mood of a sunset and the nuanced haze hanging in the air in front of it, which you have to see in person because my attempts to photograph the photo behind glass did no justice.  Curators Mishak and LeBarron both have interesting work in the show, as do 20-some additional artists.   You can check them out at a closing event 6 – 9 pm Friday, June 24th, with music by curator Shawn Mishak (Kid Tested) and Chris Sikon (Ohio Civil Power).

The Air Show: What Does Clean Air Mean To You?

June 10 – 24

Doubting Thomas Gallery

856 Jefferson Avenue

Cleveland, Ohio 44113

Mishak will curate another show at Doubting Thomas in October, this one with an occult theme. Planned activities include a “Death Cafe,” wherein guests meet over tea to talk directly about death and dying.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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