by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.
(Orlando Gallery, Valley) The act of assemblage takes aim at many of the sacred concepts of art, principally the preciousness of the object. Instead of elevating the materials on a pedestal, assemblage artists take articles, many of which are recycled, and transform them into a new existence. Yet how much value can something that was discarded by others have? This calls into question the entire concept of the value of art. What makes one object more valuable than another; or better still, is it the act of creation that imbues an art object with value, not the cost of the raw materials? After all, galleries do not price their paintings and sculptures based on the cost of the canvas or casting process. So it is not the worth of the raw ingredients but the quality and originality of execution that must determine value. With that we must arrive at equality in the arts--it is not the medium or newness that counts, but the life that the artist has breathed into the object.
The Assemblage Artists Group was founded by Annemarie Rawlinson three years back. This fraternity of artists, varying in size from 15 to 20, comes together to share ideas and create a little anarchy. In addition to working on individual pieces, they occasionally collaborate on group projects, not to mention exbhitions such as the present one. The work here ranges from humorous (Lois Ramirez'Musical Chair) to provocative (Ursula M. Kammer-Fox' Freud und Lied), with a diversity of materials and enough varied approaches to the medium to find something to stimulate even the jaded.
One of the most appealing works is Pat Cox' Shelf Life/U.S. Bronze. Its beauty lies in its simplicity and its containment of layered meaning. Of course, "shelf life" is a common food term we encounter on regular pilgimages to the grocery store that lets us know how long before our food turns into hazardous biological waste. Yet, here we do not deal with food, but with articles that call into question the length and breadth of a person's life. The shelf contains a disparate group of beat-up objects including wire, a wall mounted coat hanger, and the rusted United States Bronze Powder Works can from which the piece derives its name. Is this the measure of a person's life? Is this pile of meaningless junk all that is left at the end of a lifetime of struggle--objects without significance except to the one assembling? Or is the real question: How should we take account of a life?
Annemarie Rawlinson's Alimony also utilizes found objects and the shelf as a starting point, but goes off in a different direction, taking aim at wreckage left behind when relationships go awry. Here the old ball and chain is not the spouse but the eternal weight of those alimony payments. However, the old battered shoetree carries the words "Remember your promise" and "never leave me." We are left with the ghosts of millions of broken promises that eventually shatter lives. The beauty is in the artist's restraint from adding more. The work is thus a haunting reminder of the fragility of the human condition that avoids melodrama.
"Glued-Screwed-Wired" is a wonderful collection of objects that have been reincarnated from trash. Barbara Gawronski's Grail V is typical of this collection of serendipitous pleasures. The possibilities of the origin of the feathers that fill this chalice will elicit chuckles. And the group's shared passion for reworking society's discards evokes a range of emotions that are worthy of being deciphered.