James Heflin photo
Some people put ships in bottles. Greenfield artist Gina Siepel, on the other hand, is using boat-making techniques to fit a mile-long piece of wood into A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton. The installation is itself a component of the work, and is expected to take many days.
A visit to the gallery in the early days of the installation process revealed an elegant, room-wide intertwining of the inch-wide wood; the right angles of the gallery space seemed barely adequate to contain the soaring, endlessly curving strip of wood. The nature of the material makes for an interesting effect: its thinness and flexibility mean it makes an energetic, even light line through the space, yet its already apparent total weight hints at a blob-like sag that Siepel will no doubt wrestle with more and more as her installation progresses. It seems likely that A.P.E. will soon hold a beautiful, elegant wooden monster. Siepel explains that, even in early construction, she’s dealt with an inevitable complication and difficulty—move one part of the line, and the stressors reach well down its length, affecting parts of the installation on the other side of the room.
Siepel says the idea for the installation, which is dubbed 1 x 1, arose suddenly. She was teaching a fundamentals class at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design and, she says, “The idea just came into my head.”
“I have a long history with drawing,” she adds, “and then I started working in three dimensions.” She says that transition has meant that she never quite lost sight of line as a starting point. She envisions the mile-long wood of 1 x 1 as a line in three dimensions.
Siepel’s previous projects reveal a fertile artistic imagination, one which explores ideas of gender and history through action and through building. The theme of rivers, too, meanders through her work. She’s canoed the Bronx River to listen to and record sounds; she’s travelled the Kennebec River in a traditional “bateau” of her own construction.
In After Winslow Homer, Siepel donned the clothing of another era for a series of river-centric images recreating paintings of an Adirondack guide by Winslow Homer. The images from the Homer series are particularly intriguing, placing Siepel in a clearly male role, posed in a manner that’s at times cheeky, at others triumphant.
Perhaps the clearest predecessor to 1 x 1 is Siepel’s Boy Mechanic Project, in which she built projects from a series of books from the early 20th century offering hundreds of DIY projects for young boys. Here, too, she mixes humor with construction, making some of the books’ most inelegant objects come to life—a roller skating helper that looks like a travelling clothes rack stands out.
1 x 1 joins that intriguing list, and on its surface seems far simpler in conception. That simplicity clearly doesn’t apply to the installation aspect of the work. The entire mile of wood is stacked in a corner of A.P.E., and it takes up surprisingly little space. It comes in 12-foot lengths, and Siepel uses a construction method borrowed from boat-building to connect each piece, deciding only at that moment where and how to continue the line’s slow progress through A.P.E.’s space. Each piece joins the line via a scarph joint, in which two tapered ends are glued together. With help from an assistant, Siepel uses a specially designed wooden clamp to hold the pieces, then progresses after drying time to C-clamps.
The one-mile goal will be reached when 440 12-foot lengths have gone together. Siepel explains that, since the work is improvisational and the space finite, she plans to stop at one mile if possible, or when the space won’t allow for continuing.
For Siepel, 1 x 1 is also a chance to invite the community into her work. She says the modern conception of artist can “cut artists out” of a community and isolate them. She prefers connection. Walk by A.P.E.’s Main Street storefront in the coming days, and chances are you’ll see Siepel hard at work. That provides a performance aspect, of course, but Siepel welcomes visitors who’d like to drop in to see just what she’s up to.
Siepel builds theatrical sets for a living, and she’s collaborating with lighting designer Kathy Couch on 1 x 1. As the project progresses, Couch is installing lights that cast the wooden line’s wanderings onto the wall, offering a nighttime vista that’s yet more complex than the daytime view.•
Opening reception for 1 x 1: July 12, 5-8 p.m.; exhibition through July 27, A.P.E. Ltd. Gallery, 126 Main St., Northampton, (413) 586-5553, www.apearts.org.