City-Wide Open Studios Goes To The Office

Brian Slattery PhotosSculptures like elephant tusks. Swaddled adults. Glittering masks.

Saturday and Sunday, Artspace’s City-Wide Open Studios Alternative Space Weekend transformed the large office complex of Yale West Campus into an arts extravaganza.

The crowning event of CWOS in recent years has been held at the New Haven Armory on Goffe Street. That building was off-limits this year as it was deemed not structurally sound. So Artspace moved the event to Yale West Campus, a large office complex just off I-95 in Orange that the university purchased in 2007 from Bayer Pharmaceutical.

Despite the rain on Saturday afternoon, the parking lot set aside for the event was nearly full to capacity. Outside, food trucks served Jamaican and Persian cuisine. And inside, as the Armory was in years past, the labyrinth of offices and hallways in Yale West Campus was transformed into an art gallery.

Milagros Martinez’s masks glittered from the walls of their office alcove.

Kimberly Krivensky’s How Many More hearkened to the Ely Center of Contemporary Art’s current exhibit on gun control.

Clinton-based artist Aidan Moran set up a photo studio in his space to continue expanding his photograph series “Bad Yoga.” Previous photographs in the series included Downward Cat (the downward dog pose with a bowl of cat food placed within mouth’s reach of the practitioner), Karate Yoga (a woman splitting a watermelon with her head) and Header Pose (two people heading a soccer ball simultaneously. At Yale West Campus, a game participant allowed a riff on corpse pose suggesting that inebriation, rather than relaxation, was the cause for his horizontal configuration.

The Center for Adult Swaddling — one of Artspace’s commissioned pieces focusing on this year’s theme of wellbeing — found people willing to try out this unusual form of therapy.

In another office space in the complex, visitors soaked in Light Therapy, an installation by Jamie Burnett that also had CWOS’s theme in mind.

“The theme of wellbeing — I’ve thought about it before,” said Burnett, a professional light designer who, among many other projects, recently did lighting design for Collective Consciousness Theatre’s current production of Jesus Hopped the A Train. With lighting, he said, “in theater you can create mood and atmosphere and movement. You tell the audience what you want them to look at, and how you want them to see it.”

In designing Light Therapy, Burnett used a relatively cool, darker palette, accompanied by music from composer Istvan B’Racz.

“Blues and greens are soothing,” he explained, perhaps because they’re part of nature — the blue hue of a clear sky, the green of trees. “Purple adds a little mystery. The red,” he said, pointing to a stripe of that color that pulsed at gentle intervals through the exhibit, “is your heartbeat. If I sped that up, people would get anxious in here. But it’s a very slow heartbeat, so it calms you down.” The red, he explained, was also necessary as a basic contrast so that the rest of the room would read as blue and green.

He gestured to the laptop he had that could control all the lights in the room. “I could lash out at people and then they wouldn’t come in,” he explained, as he slowly changed the hues in the room to mimic a sunrise. “It’s having them in the room, though, that you can take advantage.”

“I feel more relaxed,” said a visitor as she left the room. “What about you?”

“I feel kind of sick,” said the visitor’s companion.

Burnett smiled, betrayed an impish sense of humor. “I can make them feel sick,” he said.

Not far from Burnett’s installation, Aileen Ishmael had set up her pieces on the walls of her own space — colorful, dynamic pieces of figures and skulls against vibrant backgrounds that spoke of identity in a diverse world.

Ishmael, who also teaches in Hamden’s public schools, studied fashion in school, which informs her to this day. “I like to make things that are beautiful, even when there’s a message,” she said.

Another experience that proved to have a lasting effect was teaching English in Japan for a year, which she did from 1998 to 1999. “A lot of my pieces are influenced by Japanese and African aesthetics,” Ishmael said. “They complement each other, even though their aesthetic is completely different.

She hasn’t been to Africa — “I want to go because it’s like going home,” she said — but does go to the African market on 116th St. in Harlem for materials, including unpolished cowrie shells, which strike her as more authentic. And she has picked up influences from other travel experiences as well, particularly Mexico.

“The three-dimensional aspect” to her work, she said, “is new. Once I finished a piece and thought, ‘this is too flat. How can I lift it off the page?’”

The resulting pieces reach toward the viewer just that much more. “I want people to want to touch it — but not touch it,” Ishmael said with a laugh.

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