Beauty: By-Product of the Grotesque

A Review of Alicia Beach's TRAPPED Exhibition

In much the way birth is the by-product of gore, so is beauty the by-product of the grotesque.

On view at 1010 Gallery in Knoxville last weekend was University of Tennessee/Knoxville Graduate Sculpture Student Alicia Beach's TRAPPED exhibition.  The entire gallery consisted of several components of related installations: a structure built to resemble a decrepit smokehouse filled with organic remains, a live-feed projection of activity within said structure, and several sculptures suspended within the show windows.

Beneath the aroma of decay was a loamy, earthy scent of fecundity.  From decay life is reborn and I was reminded of the scent of compost.  The byproduct of the projected, real-time art interaction on the projection was dreamy, mysterious and unknowable.  Taken from above, within the structure, the images provided a bird's eye view of the suspended matter and the heads, gesturing hands and moving feet of the viewers.

The structure was worn metal and wood haphazard in its structure and neglected in its maintenance; an earth-like dark substance smooshed beneath your tread as you reluctantly ventured into the structure.  Within the structure you came face-to-face and body part-to-mysterious body part of decaying flesh, "bone" and entrails (a subsequent conversation with the artist revealed that all the objects were created from hair, 150-feet of animal intestines [sausage casings], and other organic materials).  Sporadically lit from all angles, above and below, the sometimes-translucent skin-like materials glowed from within while others absorbed the light in their eerie matte-ness and density.

The fragility of the remains juxtaposed the hardness of desiccation and petrification . . . records of time passed to the susceptible shells of life.

The confrontation of the senses was reactionary . . . the revulsion of many viewers (down to the nose-holders and "ewwww!'s") might have taken over some artistic recognition, but that might be what separates some of the animals from the beasts?  I'm glad I saw both; my appreciation for the by-product is greatly enhanced by my experience of the process.  Just as the baby is separate from the birthing process . . . Alicia Beach has brought forth an exquisitely human product.

Questions to ponder on art:  if the by-products (projections and photographic stills) are removed from the installation (and I might even say true performance art) which part is the "art?"  Is the by-product just a record of the event?  These viewers were activated by experiential senses (smell), which could not be re-created without the objects themselves (can you "record" smell???) - these issues continue to be queried on all levels of contemporary art.  Art knows no boundaries and the debate itself increases the value and appreciation.

Do we need to see the birthing process, or don't we?  As an artist, I truly enjoyed the evidence of nature's process. 

After reading the Artist's Statement, my assessment is that:

a) the artist successfully recreated a childhood encounter (of coming upon a smokehouse filled with animal remains, dripping blood, and overwhelming desiccation - and then realized the animals were from the "family" of her woodland friends), and

b) that the by-products of her recreation can stand up to the Is It Art???? Interrogation. 

I cannot recreate the olfactory experience for you . . .  but please find some visual remnants of the experience.

For Art's Sake,