Armchair Travels
    Efrat Klipshtien explores at SPACES

    The essence of travel is a matter of attention rather than scale, glimpsed in a flash
    along the way to a new place or idea, soaking into the synapses before preconceptions
    tint and crowd the new impression. For an artist (or an engineer or a designer) it is also
    a matter of stretching and transforming materials to accompany the questing mind as it
    tries to grasp dynamic change.
    SPACES’ current SWAP (SPACES World Artist Program) Residency recipient, the Israeli
    artist Efrat Klipshtien, is well-equipped to explore both real and imaginary places, having
    earned a B.A. in geography and psychology, an M.Sc. degree in industrial design,
    followed by fine art studies. Her installation and performance art uses everyday objects
    and materials, revisiting experiences of places, things, and ideas as she builds
    analogous structures out of papier maché, paper clips, or whatever else comes to hand.
    As in much contemporary art, part of the content of her work is the cumulative way
    images are assembled. Additive and straightforward, techniques of this kind gather form
    rather than depict it, and tend to head off in unexpected directions as they metastasize,
    paralleling the unpredictability and danger of the world at large. Over time obsessive,
    tightly controlled actions yield an almost wild randomness, as in one of Klipshstien’s
    drawings that begins with the simple outlines of what looks like a duck decoy, scattered
    widely over a large piece of paper. Each outline is echoed again and again; minor
    deviations from the original occur, which are then repeated and exaggerated in layer
    upon layer of visual vibrations, spreading to join in an all-over abstract composition. The
    finished work looks like a detailed topographical map. A tendency to grasp the reins of
    content loosely is relaxed further by her use of loyal family members and friends to help
    with more labor-intensive accumulations. For a 2004 work titled “Handle With Care”
    twenty-three people labored over a period of two months – “and believe me,” she says,
    “everyone worked hard (but it was also like a party!).” They hooked thousands of paper
    clips together in interlinking octagons and slung the finished 4.5 by 10 meter expanse
    from the Janko Dada Museum’s ceiling in a series of peaks, like an airy metal sketch of
    mountains or circus tents.
    Klipshtien and other contemporary installation artists, like New York’s Diana Cooper
    whose complex exhibit at MOCA Cleveland last year featured room-size mindscapes
    made of foam core and office scraps (and who also employed a small army of helpers),
    suggest that the creative act is a generative field induced in materials by repetition,
    images and ideas rubbing together. Within those broad parameters anything goes. At
    SPACES Klipshtien’s “Red Winged Black Bird” is a landscape fantasy recreating a few
    basic natural forms using plaster, latex paint, and aluminum foil. Six hollow black-painted
    plaster cones, chunky and woven-looking like loosely knitted caps, rise here and there
    from a charcoal gray floor. Washing toward these stylized mountains, hundreds of
    interlocking, braided lengths of aluminum foil cascade down from the ceiling across the
    gallery.  Like a waterfall or an enchanted net the sweep of crinkled silver is the froth of
    wonder right at its edge, as it scatters and soaks into more ordinary things.
    Around the corner where SPACES’ rear windows are hidden by sections of drywall rise
    three pale, knobby plaster columns four or five inches thick. They resemble bamboo,
    maybe, or a cactus-like plant growing on another planet. Several small sprigs of smooth
    red-orange glass sprout near the top, while others seem to wriggle, tadpole-like, on the
    floor; perhaps they aren’t plants after all. The light is dim, as if from an alien sun. We
    aren’t in Kansas anymore, or for that matter Ohio or Israel. We’re nowhere, intruding in
    the fictional space of a work of art, sidling around tentacles of aluminum foil with black
    cones for company. On two adjacent walls four only slightly more conventional works
    outline delicate fern-cactus forms spreading in elegant tangles, scratched through a
    green metallic surface with a mat knife to an under layer of white paper. These large
    “drawings” resemble early nineteenth century photographic experiments and add a
    graceful note to the installation, like botanical illustrations included in an exobiological
    diorama. Klipshtien says the name of the strange place she has made is like four words
    in a short poem – “red winged black bird.”  The familiar North American species isn’t
    present here, only the primal contrast of red and black, the thought of flight and the
    ghost of a bird, as small shining colors bloom in a desert of effort and time.
    Klipshtien’s installation is the high point of her nine week-long residency, and though
    exhibited as a separate work reflects thematic concerns explored in other manners by
    the eight artists of SPACES’ current show “Internal Compasses” which also opened last
    Friday. In one of the venerable Cleveland gallery’s stronger recent exhibits, Richmond,
    Virginia’s Derek Coté and Nicole Naumann, for instance, in their installation
    “Starchitecture And The Bean Stalk,” build and photograph models of well-known art
    world architectural spaces like the Whitney Museum and the Rothko Chapel, posing
    questions about the realities of artificial things as they comment on contemporary
    interactions of art, design, and use.
douglas max utter