Interactive art exhibit first of its kind at GCC

Jan 28, 2016

BATAVIA — Anyone who walks into the Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery at Genesee Community College during the next month will stand amidst an exhibit unlike any other seen in that space. There are no paintings, photographs, or sculptures. Instead, huge, red doilies — some are 6 feet in diameter — serpentine through the gallery, suspended by fishing line from each wall.

The display is the work of southern California artist Ashley V. Blalock. She has been running her “Keeping Up Appearances” exhibit for nearly five years, each time evolving and adapting to the unique show space. It’s an exhibit that should have shown four years ago if not for a last-minute cancellation by the school.

“I think it’s excellent,” said gallery docent Mary Jo Whitman, who invited Blalock to exhibit when she took over running the gallery last year. “It’s more of my style of art, doing an installation. This will be the first one since I have taken over that we’ve done more 3-D work.”

Blalock began her artistic journey, as so many do, by painting. She completed her undergraduate degree at the San Francisco Art Institute and found that getting a job was difficult. More seriously, paint was not the medium that conveyed her message.

“I was living by myself and was trying to paint, but it just wasn’t happening,” she explained. “It was a mess. One night, my dog stuck her nose in a painting and got it all over the floor. Then I was done. I was done trying to make this work. It wasn’t working for me; it wasn’t speaking to me. But I always crocheted. My grandmother taught me with my great-aunt. Whenever I would get upset, I would sit down and crochet. So I started thinking if there was some way I could do crochet, which I really like, but do it as art and have it be taken seriously. This is the eventual outcome of that.”

Blalock spends anywhere from a day to three weeks creating her doilies. Her exhibit is the culmination of five years of crocheting. Each time she finishes a new one, it gets added to the pile and eventually strung up for a display.

Of course, doilies are known to be white and part of a forgone practice of protecting furniture from wear. And when Blalock started out, she created ones that looked more at home on grandma’s armchair than in an art gallery. Then she made them bigger, and red, and hung them on display to give them depth.

“Red for me is about home and relationships; it’s passion, it’s anger, it’s love,” she explained. “It’s all of those things you have in the home.

“Normally, you would just have these right on a table or an armchair, and there’s no depth to that. They’re flat. They take their shape from whatever they’re on. This exhibit gives them more life and depth.”

The gallery lighting also plays a role, as it throws shadows on the wall that add to the display.

“It will be a little more interesting,” Whitman said during Tuesday’s installation. “Of course, we want to light the work, but the shadows that they cast are just as important.”

Visitors will be able to walk under, next to and around the doilies, an intentional creation by Blalock to make the exhibit interactive.

“I want people to see a different type of art,” said Blalock, who also teaches art at San Bernardino Valley College and Cal-State San Bernardino. “It’s not paintings on a wall, it’s not photos, it’s interactive. You walk through it. I’m hoping people see something different.”

Blalock will give a lecture about the display today at 12:30 p.m. Receptions with the artist are schedule for 1-2 and 5-7 p.m. today in the gallery.

The exhibit runs through Feb. 26.

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by Matt Krueger, The Daily News (1/28/2016)
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