The bystander stood admiring one of the creations of artist Marcus Schaeffer, aka Markus Surrealius — an insect-like creature the height of a small child with bulging eyes and a long proboscis.
“Is it a bee?”
“The body is a cow skull,” Schaeffer said. “This one’s called LB17. It’s its own thing.”
Schaeffer explained that he comes up with “conceptual functions” for each of his metallic functions, a job it’s doing, and he designs the body shape around that. He said he gets the parts from junkyards and scrap piles. He Dumpster dives. Though the cow skull at the center of LB17’s body had been on a friend’s desk for years. “It had gotten gnawed by squirrels and everything else.”
“Can I use that?” Schaeffer had asked.
“OK,” she said.
The bystander asked more about how Schaeffer put his creatures together. Schaeffer handed him a card. Around then, children weaved among the legs of an even bigger metal animal, while a humanoid droid’s eyes blinked, its arms held in the air.
Such scenes were common in the vast expanse of the Goffe Street Armory, which Artspace’s City Wide Open Studios took over this past weekend, filling its rooms with dozens of artists and their works and making the enormous open space in the middle a theater, a place for contemplation, and an area for people to meet up after getting lost in the labyrinthine hallways around them.
The New Haven-based A Broken Umbrella Theater staged its latest piece, Exchange, centered on the Elm City’s long history with the telephone. This weekend saw its second run of performances, the first having been the weekend before for CWOS’s Westville Weekend. A Broken Umbrella will perform Exchange four more times for Erector Square Weekend on Oct. 28 and 29.
At the other end of the Armory was garden - pleasure, a piece by a team of Yale architecture students that featured seven booths connected by paths that wove among serene reflection pools. One booth contained a camera and a monitor, allowing the viewer to see themselves from an unusual angle. Another booth was lined on the inside with a fragmented mirror.
Still another booth found a way to use cell phone cases to create a small, futuristic scene that seemed to expand the space within the booth above the viewer’s head, and even defy gravity a little.
As in years past, the main attraction — the one that kept people there for hours — was the Armory’s maze of rooms, full of artists, friends, spectators, and more than a few customers.
Kraig Binkowski’s woodcuts lined the wall of one long, well-lit room. His artist statement suggested that his works explored themes of isolation. But that theme wasn’t a mission statement; it had emerged, Binkowski explained, as he did the work.
Binkowski is a librarian at the Yale Center for British Art. He has been a printmaker for 30 years and has been doing woodcuts in earnest for the past ten. For the pieces in the Armory, he began with very quick sketches, or sometimes of photographs, of scenes that had grabbed his eye.
“Visually, I’m just taken with something I see in life,” he said. He then developed more detailed sketched that would form the basis of one of his woodcuts. But “translating the sketches into a woodblock print is something else altogether,” Binkowski said. Working with wood and chisel, the result “is a different image than what you were expecting. It’s always a surprise what you’re going to get.”
And part of the reason for the simple imagery is to “not hide the form,” Binkowski said, to “show the marks.”
“There’s a lot going on with the mark-making” visually, he added, “so simplifying the image helps a lot.” The emotional result, he discovered, was that he had created a series of works of people alone in landscapes, or under an umbrella. Like the aesthetic result, the theme was a bit of a surprise, though in another way not entirely unexpected.
“I am thinking about the urban and suburban environment,” he said. “I’m drawn to that kind of imagery — that’s what I’m drawn to myself when I’m looking at other artists’ imagery.”
Meanwhile, on the first floor under a metal staircase, photographer Eliezer Santiago was documenting a different kind of space in a more modern way, with similarly affecting results.
“These are pictures of my recent trip to India,” he explained with a smile. He went in August for two and a half weeks. “I’ve always wanted to see it,” he said, “see all the colors and all the food, and it didn’t disappoint.” This was in part because he went with four other people, one of whom had family there. “They showed us all the local spots,” he said. He took hundreds of photos and edited them down to about 20 that he was showing at the Armory.
Many of them were sweeping vistas of a landscape vivid with color and atmosphere. Some he had taken with an Olympus camera. Others, he explained with a laugh, he had taken with his iPhone, with the intent to simply capture what he was seeing. He graduated Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in journalism in 2013. “That’s why some of my images have a documentarian feel to them.”
He offered this reporter a cup of hot tea of a variety he had brought back with him, rich with milk and sugar. I accepted and took a long sip. It was warm and sweet.
City Wide Open Studios continues in private studios Oct. 21 and 22 and in Erector Square Oct. 28 and 29. Click here for more information.