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ARTS AND HUMANITIES: McMaster Gallery at USC-Columbia hosts two-artist exhibition

November 9, 2018

How often do we try to make sense of the world and our place in it by looking for patterns? We search for regularity in our environment and predictability in our own behavior. How disconcerting to us, therefore, is any disturbance to those patterns! We are thrown off balance by something that seems out of place or by an unexpected break in our routine. Yet, these disruptions can sometimes make us step out of ourselves and reach a deeper understanding of where and who we are.

This fundamental aspect of the human condition ties together the works of two artists, Jodi Lightner and Adrian Rhodes, on display until Dec. 13 at the McMaster Gallery on the USC-Columbia campus. Entitled “Framing Interference,” the show, encompassing nine pieces by Lightner and a four-part installation by Rhodes, purposely disrupts patterns to enhance perception.

The three-dimensional mylar wall sculptures by Lightner, who is a member of the art faculty at Montana State University, are inspired by the fictional urban spaces described in Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel “Invisible Cities.” In what is essentially an imaginary conversation between the legendary explorer Marco Polo and the equally legendary Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, Calvino presents the reader with fifty-five poetic recreations of medieval municipalities presumably encountered by Polo on his travels from Europe to Asia, including the fantastic spider-web city of Octavia and the plumbing-framed city of Armilla. These cities are “invisible” because they are imaginary; and Polo’s descriptions are, to a significant extent, informed by his longing for the city of his childhood: Venice.

Similarly, Lightner’s nine self-professed “blueprints for impossible architecture” – each one constructed from hand-cut mylar embellished with acrylic and ink – take the gallery visitor on a journey of sorts, both physical and metaphysical. As we scan the gallery walls, moving from one low-relief sculpture to another, our eyes are drawn inward from the edges of each piece to the intricate passageways at the heart of each fabricated structure. So too is the mind encouraged to travel to places from our personal experience, clouded perhaps by both memory and myth.

Indeed, the title of one of Lightner’s three-dimensional works, which she labels “Trope,” makes clear her artistic intention; she wants us to read each piece as a metaphor of how our individual perception – what we see with our eyes and with our minds – colors how we shape our environment. The labyrinthine cubicles in “Trope,” layered one on top of the other and connected by tiny ladders placed at various angles, recall the intricate, frequently perplexing connectivity of urban life.

In contrast to Lightner’s exquisitely detailed works, Adrian Rhodes, an M.F.A. graduate of Winthrop University, has given us art writ large. Her four-part installation, composed of paper elements, takes up half of the gallery space devoted to this exhibition. Hanging from the ceiling and emerging from the walls, “Abundance and Loss” is, like Lightner’s “cities,” a metaphor-driven work that tries to make sense of life’s interrupted patterns.

In the case of Rhodes, it is the effort to find a “new normal” after life throws one a curve ball. The artist herself was inspired to explore how we are sometimes challenged to balance conflicting emotions occasioned by a combination of loss (the death of her parents and brother) and gain (the birth and nurture of her daughters). Rhodes makes the effort by combining universal images that have taken on deep-seated symbolic meaning over time: the pomegranate with its association of fecundity and blood ties, the bee with its reference to productivity and construction, and the sky chart and its ancient usage as a device for making sense of the heavens and the forces that may affect our lives on earth. The artist’s mastery of various printmaking techniques – lithography, intaglio, and relief – along with her innovative manipulation of paper as a medium is on very dramatic display.

Unlike Lightner’s sculptures, which are affixed to the wall and experienced as one would a traditional two-dimensional work, the paper installation of Adrian Rhodes grants the visitor an immersive experience. Bursting pomegranates rendered in acrylic in a two-dimensional, wall-mounted image bleed blood and honey in died paper strands – both red and gold – that meander across the floor. Paper bees swarm upon the wall surface, each an amazing three-dimensional woodcut sculpture, or hang in balls suspended from the ceiling along with sky charts in various “hedral” shapes.

Both Rhodes in her paper installation and Lightner in her mylar “cities” offer gallery visitors creative “interruptions” of traditional patterns. In so doing, they challenge how we view our world and our place in it.

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