CASPER, Wyo. — Artists have filled ten new temporary rooms over the last week at ART 321 with a range of immersive visions, from the mellow and inviting to challenging and cynical, for the Immersive Installations gallery opening reception Tuesday, January 11.
“These artists represent this huge spread of what’s possible through installation,” ART 321 director Tyler Cessor told Oil City. “[Thematically,] we wanted it to be pretty open-ended, so we’re not the arbiters of what installation art is. We’re more asking the question of what it can be.”
Some of the rooms will offer an “emotional escape and calming and meditative space,” Cessor said, while others address “traumatic and unfortunate real-world problems” in ways that may be emotionally challenging to patrons.
Gwyn Uttmark’s installation “Perfect Commodity,” is one such challenging part of the experience. Uttmark, who is trans, described their installation as a work of “endurance performance art,” and a frankly cynical depiction of the “commodification of queer bodies.”
One wall of Uttmark’s room will be decorated with their own blood, harvested by IV. They will be on site for at least two hours a day for the duration of the exhibition, offering to sell the chance to witness self-inflicted scalpel wounds. It takes the harmful trope of the “tortured artist” to a literal extreme, and is meant to critique the ways in which the art market tacitly romanticizes mental health struggles, particularly for queer and other marginalized communities.
“My goal is to give you a piece of pain,” Uttmark said. “Sort of cut-to-the-chase.” The Casper-Natrona County Health Department has been working with ART 321 to ensure safety, and Uttmark is a Stanford-trained biochemist well experienced in handling pathogens.
Ismael Dominquez’s “Pressure,” with wax spikes dangling over a live-cast human figure, also represents the menacing side of an individual’s experience in society.
Wilson resident Suzanne Morlock, a veteran of art installations, is creating a room filled with the “detritus of illness,” illustrating the day-to-day challenges of someone who struggles with chronic medical conditions.
Other rooms aim to create a more inviting experience and focus on the aesthetics of the materials. Carli Holcome of Casper will suspend six hand-cut bronze and copper plates from the ceiling, creating a geometric dispersion of light and shadow inviting the observer to “slow down and feel,” according to the artist’s statement.
Kristin Shaeffer of Casper is creating she calls several “shadow lamps”: plywood boxes with intricately hand-cut geometric designs that will be lit from within.
“It’s meant to induce a meditative state,” Shaeffer told Oil City. “The ambiance they create in a room … you’ve never seen anything like it.”
Casper artist Vickie Windle has designed a space meant to represent (and invite) connections. Cords, ropes, and threads will connect a central figure to shrines, reliquaries, photos and poetry, symbolically stitching the parts together. It is primarily focused on the positive connections, with a nod to those that are “not so good,” she said in a video for ART 321. She said she hopes it will inspire viewers to connect with someone over coffee or lunch, “preferably with someone they don’t know well.”
Leila and Chris Pfaff of Casper have created “Forest of Serendipity,” an interactive space replete with hanging fabric, a white faux fur floor, meditative sound, forest smells and a slight breeze (via fan). Amber Marie and Joseph Skimehorn, meanwhile, have created a space meant to evoke the wild infatuation of new love.
All of the artists are Wyoming residents, and six are from Casper.
A panel discussion will be held with the artists at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 11. Audiences are advised that Uttmark will give a performance related to their installation, which could be upsetting. A reception will follow.
The Immersive Installations Gallery will run through February 26.
See a complete list of the artists with installation descriptions here.
Note: An early version of the article said Uttmark would sell vials of blood. Uttmark clarified that they are instead giving out vials with a blade in them for free. “Money will exchange hands only if someone needs a vial delivered, and that money will only cover delivery, not the materials. The vials are sponsored by ART 321,” Uttmark said.