As daunting a space as The Icebox at Crane Arts is, Ryan McCartney and Tim Belknap seem to have the process of exhibiting in it down to some sort of science. Along with artist and curator Anna Neighbor, the three have set up an exhibition that is as contemplative as it is expansive, the former of which is reflected in its name “Begin Where You Are.” Calling on mantras as disparate as Ram Dass (Be Here Now) and Julie Andrews (Let's start at the very beginning...), the show highlights a range of Philadelphia-based makers whose content is generally thoughtful enough to make itself as present as the mindful viewer.
Gigantic white walls installed in The Icebox serve to break down the otherwise open area into manageable parts and, although they do not truly form any sort of maze, one can't help but find themselves in a labyrinth – if in mind only. Perhaps nowhere is this depth, both figuratively and actually, more evident than in Linda Yun's “soft warm stars and silent thunder.” Here we find two stacks of dark construction paper, side-by-side, that are all but parallel. The quarter-inch chasm between them is filled from the white pedestal beneath it to the very top with flour, accentuating the gap while also filling it. Not unlike tracing layers of sediment to discover data hidden in solid rock, Yun beckons us to get down close and examine the strange scene composed of common materials. In contemplating the artist's process and creation, we also discover that on top, the otherwise perfectly filled divide dusts out over the top, creating a sort of nebula of stars on the two surfaces. Placing us far below the earth and in deep space simultaneously, Yun's firmament is indicative of much of the work on display: astounding in both its simplicity and its insight.
Easy to miss without the gallery guide or an observant eye, Eileen Neff's “Twin Peaks” hangs high above the show, peeking down from where the long wall meets the ceiling. It is almost like an afterthought, depicting two billowy clouds in a dark gray hue that verges on blue. Not only are these columns of water vapor not mountains, but they aren't even solid. Tapping the surrealism of her David Lynch-inspired title, nothing about this piece is quite as it seems – even the frame surrounding the short, wide print only surrounds three corners, making it seem as if the image is physically embedded in the roof. Beyond the pinnacles of these clouds however, much of the scene would be open sky and ultimately the vacuum of space. If any other content might have existed in this void, it is concealed by the artist's illusion of overzealous cropping. Stoking our imagination in this way, the sky is indeed the limit.
Marc Zajack includes three items in the show that break away from many of the other pieces, which tend to be solid and stationary. His objects are machines that spin using battery power: a coffee cup with a rotating lid, a pineapple top twisting in a tin can, and... some type of cardboard box with a whirling plastic sausage link. These useless contraptions seemingly possess only the power to enrage the NSA with their purposefully dubious titles, which are merely numbered variations of the term “I.E.D.” Perhaps the 'e' stands for 'electronic' rather than 'explosive,' but these improvised devices are wholly absurd beyond their obvious ability to troll surveillance software.
As far as pure focus on form goes, Paul Swenbeck's untitled blue ceramic vessels are as alien as they are alluring, partially melted at the bottom, but otherwise blossoming into round, clawed, seedpod-like openings on top. In keeping with the show's tendency for unorthodox display, both reside in only one corner of a square platform that is much too large for them.
On Saturday, August 23, I am the One Who Knocks and the New Dreamz provided on-site performances, with additional live performances slated for September 6 and September 13. Going from the back-and-forth, socially charged cadences of I am the One Who Knocks to the ridiculous, no-fourth-wall-at-all antics of the New Dreamz was rather jarring, but the night also ended with the audience wrapped in streamers and plastic wrap that required scissors to leave, so there's that too. Being trapped at the end of the show isn't exactly how the earlier labyrinth metaphor was intended, but it sure is on par.
Clearly, with some two dozen artists, collaborators and performers, this is merely the tip of The Icebox, so to speak. With a few weeks left in the exhibition that runs through September 13, and a handful of performances as well, “Begin Where You Are” has only just begun.