Thursday, November 23, 2023

Fallen Trees Find New Life in Art

The final sculpture

My friend Bob Bangiola, an artist in Hudson, asked me to help him construct a sculpture in his back yard, which overlooks a vast, marshy expanse. He uses found wood—tree limbs, branches, and trunks—to connect post-and-lintel frames to make rudimentary edifices. At maybe eight feet tall, this was among the largest Bob has made; other works in his yard are about three feet tall.

The process entailed Bob positioning two primary, pre-constructed frames an appropriate distance apart to eventually form a rough cube. He then hoisted and tilted one upside-down “U” frame perpendicular to the ground. This is where I came in (plus a bit later, two people who were filming the process for a documentary). I stood by one post and helped position it to the point of zero gravity, as Bob checked in with me by voice, look, and balance so that both sides felt weightless. He used the phrase "tuning fork" on occasion, an apt term for the process of refining the work's balance through the most minute adjustments. 
To help keep one of the two main frames in place, Bob used a separate limb with a forked end, like a crutch, to prop it up. To support the other frame, he parked his Jeep against it to take its weight. He then positioned cross bars between the two frames, plus braces to make triangles, and drove in lag bolts to stabilize it.
A crutch-like branch and the Jeep support the frames 

Because of the nature of how trees grow, some of the tree lengths have slight twists and bows, so when they are positioned as crosspieces, they might rock or pivot. The differing density and heft of various woods is surprising. Each piece has its own characteristics that need to be factored in. As the work ages, it will settle.When the framework was stable enough to stand alone, Bob pushed and pulled on various parts to test its strength. He hung from the cross bars and pulled up his weight, bouncing to test its stability.Eventually, the structure will most likely collapse—most of the wood was dead to start with. But the process of decay and dissolution is part of the artwork. The piece evokes many things: shelter, a gate or passageway, a playground or acrobatics apparatus, to name a few—each viewer will form their own associations. For now, these fallen trees live anew.

Photos: Susan Yung

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Sobelle's Enticing, Gluttonous, Enlightening FOOD

Geoff Sobelle, exemplary waiter. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Geoff Sobelle taps into just every imaginable topic surrounding FOOD, the title of his latest theater work. These range from how city dwellers most often encounter it—in a restaurant, accompanied by wine—to its consumption by a gluttonous waiter after his shift, to the origin of wheat crops that have come to signify Big Ag and the ensuing destruction of the American landscape and diet. 

Sobelle is as polite as you’d expect a waiter to be in a fancy establishment, albeit with a 300-square foot table. He enlists those at the table (most of us sat in surrounding seats) to pour wine and read aloud from cues written in menu folios, or answer questions such as “what is your favorite diner food?,” and then magically produces said meal (meatloaf and mashed potatoes). After his shift, he consumes the leftovers and whatever else lies around—apples, raw eggs, tomatoes, salad, a steak, a fish, two bottles of wine, the leftover meatloaf, then cigarettes and money. It’s a pretty convincing act that leaves you wondering what trickery he used, because he simply can't have consumed all that!

Chandelier, recycling bottles and stuff. Photo: Susan Yung

In another trope of magic, he yanks off the enormous tablecloth (it sits beneath an elegant, tiered chandelier made of recycled items), revealing a plain of dirt. Shifting gears, he crawls around the dirt on all fours, plucking adorable little bison out of the dirt, moving them foot-by-foot around the plain in an expanding herd. Following a tiny tractor that self-drives across the field, sheafs of wheat grow. Sobelle plunges his arm deep into the earth and retracts it, covered with oil. Derricks and rigs pop up, model houses are placed willy-nilly by the diners from passed trays, and high-rises with interior lights emerge from the soil. 

Post-shift imbibing. Photo: Stephanie Berger

The bison are returned to the earth, now extinct, and Sobelle himself digs a plot and disappears into the ground—the final feat of magic. We’ve experienced nothing less than the history of America in a physical re-enactment, as well as the endgame of late-stage capitalism and gluttony in its rawest form. FOOD is the third in a trilogy presented at BAM, with previous shows based on hoarding (The Object Lesson) and the complexities of a domicile (HOME). 

It's also the most demanding for Sobelle himself, the key element  powering his entire extremely popular theatrical enterprise. One wonders long he can continue to throw body and soul into his works, but in the meantime, there's no one else like him.

FOOD, BAM Next Wave, BAM Fisher, Nov 2—18, 2023