words and photos by Chloe Kanner
The way we move together, through, and around a Kirsten Reynolds installation is a kind of dance. It’s not clear who’s leading or what it’s leading to, and that’s the best part.
It’s a kind of dance that Delaney McDonough and Cookie Harrist know well. They form Hio Ridge Dance, a modern dance studio and school in Denmark, Maine, where they improvise and surprise as a rule.
For the new exhibition at 3S Artspace’s gallery in Portsmouth, called “Framing Space,” Reynolds and Hio Ridge Dance each contributed work toward a dialogue on the art of movement within a certain space and with an uncertain structure.
Reynolds, an artist from Newmarket, created “Cut,” a wooden architectural frame with the look of a work in progress. It could be either unfinished or under demolition, with some pieces seemingly out of place.
It reaches heights of more than 16 feet, where curved ribbons of laminated, molded plywood cascade down in yellow. Reynolds says the color has a dual nature. It’s bright, like sunshine, but can also be unsettling, like caution tape. Curved plywood is also used for a shorter, wider element, painted in a magnified origami pattern. These Japanese-based patterns are something of a signature for Reynolds, who says there’s childlike and craft references behind it.
The rest of the wood — and it’s real wood this time instead of the foam used in her previous installations — is painted with a faux wood grain finish. Reynolds used real wood because of the height and scale of this piece, but still wanted the surface to be an illusion.
The pretense helps us think beyond our expectations of the material and the space it’s in. If we assume we already know and understand a situation, we might just categorize it that way and move on. But, when something surprises us and we’re curious about it, we can move toward more original thoughts.
By finding the right balance of stability and fallibility when designing the installation, and leaving the structure open while suggesting a complete form, Reynolds works with the idea that absence in visual information leads to our presence. Our minds work to fill in the blanks.
People are engaged even further by moving around the installation with others, seeing it and them from different angles and places. It’s a social setting in which our experiences are shaped by others. It all makes for a theatrical setting, in which we become part of a natural and spontaneous performance, like the kind by Hio Ridge Dance.
The exhibition is more of a conversation than collaboration. Hio Ridge Dance contributed a video of original dance arrangements, featuring McDonough and Harrist as well as some of their students. In “Porch,” the body serves as the structure, which responds and may even fail under exhaustive improvisational scores.
Dancer Delaney McDonough said she studies relationships, patterns, and processes through movement.
Improvising includes making separate, secret decisions about how they will interact with each other, then reacting in real time, or climbing and piling on top of each other in various ways and learning how long they can hold a position and what part gets tired first. McDonough said she studies relationships, patterns, and processes through movement.
They’ve tested some of their moves locally in performances at The Red Door’s Tiny Mayhem event, as recently as Aug. 11. But they also work with kids, who often don’t have as many presumptions about how dance is supposed to be, and keep things light, McDonough said.
Though they bring different ideas to the dialogue, there are surprising similarities in the way a visual artist and dancers approached the gallery space. They didn’t intend for the finished product to appear perfect or even finished, but instead relied on intuition, interaction, and the element of surprise.
“Framing Space” is another good example of how 3S Artspace, through the artists it commissions, is helping change definitions of art and galleries, and how we react to and interact with art in galleries.
The exhibition will be on display through Oct. 4. The Gallery at 3S Artspace is located at 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth.