Art from found objects

Two assemblage artists open exhibits at the Alaska State Museum

Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2002

I t has been said that one man's junk is another man's treasure. For Alaska artists Carol Hilgemann and Don Mohr, that junk is more than simply treasure - it's the basis for a work of art.

The Alaska State Museum will showcase "found object art" with solo exhibitions by Hilgemann and Mohr, beginning with an opening reception from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1. Hilgemann will talk about her exhibition at 6 p.m.

Hilgemann and Mohr are two of six artists selected for the museum's continuing series of solo exhibitions by Alaska artists, said Mark Daughhetee, a museum curator. Every few years, Alaska artists are invited to submit their work for review by the museum. The show opening Friday is the second in the series.

Although both artists derive inspiration from found objects, their work is very distinct.

"These assemblage artists actually work very differently," Daughhetee said. "Their work is strikingly different, as any one who comes to the show can see."

Hilgemann's exhibit, entitled "Rescued and Resuscitated," combines the media of assemblage and collage. The 30-piece exhibition is composed of papers and items found at antique stores and garage sales. Hilgemann was traveling to Juneau from her home in North Pole and could not be reached for comment, but stated in a museum release that her pieces serve as a voice to help herself and others better understand the human condition.

"Loving objects that are aged and reflect history, I collect artifacts that often wait years before finding their place in my work," she said. "These antique and commonplace objects, utilized figuratively and symbolically in small-scale assemblages, allow me the opportunity to look within and beyond myself for inspiration and common emotions."

Mohr's exhibit is titled "... is this not an urgent matter?" and is a found object installation consisting of four wall pieces and one free-standing work. It is founded on ideas stemming from his study of Buddhism and the title is taken from a poem written by Wonhyo, a Korean monk who achieved enlightenment after he mistakenly drank water from a human skull while in a dark cave more than 1,300 years ago.

A found-object installation is created when an open space is converted into a sculpture, Mohr said. Yet creating a true installation would have taken him up to a week or more, and would have entailed leaving his Anchorage home and searching throughout Juneau for objects suitable for an installation. Because of the impracticality of that scenario, Mohr said his exhibit would instead be a "modified installation."

"If you make your eyes into slits, then maybe you'd think you're in an installation," he said.

Creating found object art is an unstructured process, Mohr said, and items used in its creation can range from brand new to things ready to be hauled to the dump. While he constantly adds items to his collection, Mohr said they often sit in his workshop for months, even years, before he develops an idea of how they go together. But the mere presence of these objects in his studio serves an important purpose in his creative process.

"I kind of have to live with these things for a long time, until they become second nature in my mind," Mohr said. "Familiarity is very important. Very rarely do I find a new object and immediately put it in a new piece. It almost never happens."

While those unfamiliar with found-object art may simply view it as a pile of junk - which in some respects, Mohr and Daughhetee acknowledge it is - Daughhetee insists it's more than that.

"It's how you put it together, and the relationship these objects take on when they're put together in context," Daughhetee said. "That's the art of assemblage, finding new ways to interpret objects you may or may not recognize."

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