In what used to be the Goffe Street Armory’s ladies’ powder room, artist Joe Fekieta had grown a tree for his show this weekend at City Wide Open Studios. He called it the tree of life, though its branches were bare.
It was up to visitors to give it leaves, one by one. First they had to write a promise on each leaf.
“You want to make a promise?” Fekieta said, inviting a few children into the room Saturday at the first of two days of exhibitions by more than 100 local artists in the Armory for the second of four CWOS weekend events. “You can! But if you make the promise, you have to keep the promise” — to be better to the planet in some way, no matter how large or small, serious or lighthearted.
Fekieta, who has lived in the Hill for 32 years, has had the same room for CWOS for years. He made his piece because “the earth is under such assault,” he said. And “if the tree of life dies, then we all die.”
But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t room for fun. “You know, no one said, ‘I promise to help Santa Claus,’” he told another kid.
By then the number of leaves on the branches had grown. I promise to stay true to myself and follow my dreams, one read. I promise to use less toilet paper, read another. It was all fine by Fekieta.
Fekieta’s tree of life — inventive, engaging, and participatory — fit nicely with the “Game On!” theme of City Wide Open Studios this year. Its commissioned pieces were as much game as art. And in the Goffe Street Armory on Saturday and Sunday, all the artists together turned the enormous, imposing building into a playground for art.
“People Puzzle,” Bob Gregson’s and Melanie Carr’s art game, proved a hit for visitors to the armory, whether they fit the pieces around their waists and figured out how to move together in them, or used them to build castles.
Likewise, Megan Craig’s “The Way Things Felt” received steady traffic from adults and kids alike, who became painters, erasers, or part of the display to create and re-create a constantly shifting and engaging work of art.
The commissioned pieces created a sense of play that reverberated throughout the building. Scott Schuldt’s “Journey of Discovery” had turned the entire building into a place for a scavenger hunt, with winners able to take home some of Schuldt’s pieces. But even those not participating made the armory into a place of exploration as they moved through its catacomb-like rooms.
This yielded discoveries like Nikki Korth‘s encaustic paintings, which used wax painted on wood and slate to create images of surf that were vivid with swirling color.
Placing artists who made divergent — yet similar — works in the same space allowed the mind to make connections that might not otherwise be made. In one space, Rosemary Cotnoir‘s intricate acrylics, Kathleen DeMeo‘s geometric monotypes, and Lori Datlow’s photos of doll’s heads were united by their bold uses of color.
Throughout the galleries, though, people kept telling each other to visit the attic, if they could find their way up.
There in the attic, artist Colin Burke‘s “Blue Skies” employed the simple and brilliant idea of turning the space into a gigantic camera obscura. Taking the room’s two already small windows and covering each of them to leave a hole not much bigger than a silver dollar, he directed visitors to stand next to the apertures and wait for their eyes to adjust.
Clarity emerged slowly, first among the beams on the ceiling, where projected cars floated down the mirage of a road, and a ghost of a man haunted the sidewalk. As one’s pupils continued to dilate, the backdrop of houses grew sharper, a tree pulled into focus. And at once, the hazy line on the opposite wall became the horizon, broken now and again by a tall maple or a rooftop. At last there was the blue sky, just as the title of Burke’s piece promised, mottled with clouds that drifted across the glowing floor.
And it was all upside down. Even in a piece that made science into art, a sense of play was still at work.
City Wide Open Studios’ Armory Weekend runs through Oct. 16, 12 to 6 p.m. Private Studios Weekend, which takes place across the New Haven area, runs Oct. 22 and 23. Erector Square Weekend runs Oct. 29 and 30 at 315 Peck St. Click here for more information.