Viewing Subjective Realities at the Sanctuary Arcata feels like passing through a wind tunnel time machine. All major 20th-century sculptural tropes come at you at once, revenants with their wires crossed and their channels remixed. Erin Flyer's neo-primitivist wood relief recalls the shapes Gauguin carved above his hut in the Marquesas; it sits across from Billy Conn's welded steel sculpture assembled from scrap in the manner pioneered by abstract expressionists in the 1940s. Suspended like plumb weights in order of decreasing scale, Julie Fleck's crystalline volumes feel like a sanctuary within the Sanctuary. Across the room, Shane Donaldson's grungy assemblage centers around a stuffed toy gorilla that looks like something a carnie at an evolution-themed amusement park might have used to gin up punters in the 1970s.
This rambunctious group exhibition is pulsing with energy and ideas; it needs to be, to hold its own within the Sanctuary's cozy, busy alt-folk precincts. Organized by Sanctuary Arts Director Rory Cullifer and Programming Director Cyrus Smith, and curated by Benjamin Funke (who is, full disclosure, my partner), Subjective Realities surveys three-dimensional artwork by 18 students and recent graduates of College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University. Jewelry and sculpture appear side by side, while painting, drawing and video are excluded.
It's not easy to extract a single theme from the visual clamor, but one involves the tendency to re-present and romanticize objects from a lost industrial past. Gears, rivets and horseshoes are raised on pedestals and brandished like talismans.
The interactive sculpture that dominates the exhibition's main space, an optical device by Jillian Rammell, is built around a reclaimed heater coil. The perforated wide-bore tube may suggest a telescope from afar, but this turns out to be more an instrument for interior navigation. A wishbone is suspended in the instrument's midsection and a kaleidoscopic array with your own tiny likeness at its heart is revealed when you peer inside, thanks to a convex mirror.
Billy Conn draws on years of experience as a blacksmith to make his welded metal sculptures, two of which can be seen here. "Outrospection," a tall black humanoid form standing erect on stilt-like quad legs, holds mirrored disks to the sky as though waiting for the aliens to reach out — another sculptural situation where the difference between the instrument and its user (or maker) is elided.
Colette Beaupré carves wood into small, elegant freestanding sculptures, opening holes inside rounded nodes of laminated plywood that show the material's tiger stripes to best advantage. These wooden pieces point to nature more insistently than most of the other sculptures here; they come across like refined reconstructions of the wave-smoothed, pebble-sized redwood beads that line our local beaches.
Nick Hemphill's "Oneiric Sigel Fountain" poses a rusty machine wheel on top of a steel base shaped like a Mayan ziggurat. The base is splashed with aqua blue acrylic polymer that condenses into Keith Haring-style hieroglyphics here and there. The components look like a mathematical equation when they're stacked vertically, with an icon for industrial modernity in the numerator position and an equally app-ready icon for indigenous world systems in the denominator place below. The approach is not subtle, but the theme is undeniably of our moment.
Preoccupation with technologies of the industrial past makes a certain sense for people who have grown up in the 21st-century United States, with manufacturing long since gone, service-industry jobs representing most of what's available and professional elevation often defined as getting a job where you interact with screens instead of working with your hands. Now that we inhabit a mediaverse in which presidential speech is couched in tweets, undertaking the laborious process of making something — anything — with your hands is a bold, even bolshy move.
Don't miss Craig Howarth's flayed and butterflied Converse high-tops, pinned flat on the wall in groups as if awaiting tanning; they seem like the stuff of ritual for tribes that we may yet become.
Subjective Realities will be on view at the Sanctuary Arcata through the end of June. The exhibition is open to the public on Saturdays during Open Lab hours from noon to 6 p.m. as well as during all Sanctuary events and performances. Visit www.sanctuaryarcata.org for details.