To describe artist Dayton Castleman’s exhibit at the 930 Art Center one might use words that similarly describe the writings of Lewis Carroll: whimsical, ironic, nonsensical, curious, and tongue in cheek humorous. The fact that the exhibition is titled Rabbit Trails only encourages the comparison. However, you won’t find Alice or any of the other cast of eclectic characters here. Instead, you’ll find a world of sculptural works that will leave a profound impression.
Dayton Castleman is a Chicago-based artist and teacher whose perspective on the world has a child-like charm with complex dimensions. He takes the “what if” and brings it to life. For instance, take the piece titled “shredder.” It consists of a wooden contraption that houses 4 electronic paper shredders. This idea came to fruition after his daughter asked how chicken salad was made. Castleman states, “I went to our office, quickly cut a chicken shape out of paper, grabbed the paper shredder and brought it to the dinner table. I gave her the chicken and told her to put it in the shredder, which she did. ‘That's basically how chicken salad is made,’ I said, and immediately it popped into my head that it might be interesting to shred long, continuous sheets of paper.”
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the installation at the 930 Art Center and was able to ask a few questions of Castleman himself. On one of the walls there is a ledge that displays thin plywood envelopes that are painted white with actual recipient addresses and reproduced stamps. Castleman dropped them in the mailbox to see if they would actually pass as real mail. Long story short, they did. One “envelope” is even christened with a “postage due” stamp courtesy of the USPS. In reference to the forged postage Castleman said, “If I get arrested over a 44 cent stamp, it may be the best thing for my career actually.”
In another corner of the room a human figure is covered in a white sheet. The only thing that isn’t covered is a pair of black wing tipped shoes. The sheet rises subtly to indicate that the figure is breathing. The piece is titled “Sigh.” Castleman claims that when people first see this piece they are convinced that it is the artist under the sheet doing a performance. He finds this humorous. When the director of the 930 Art Center, Michael Winters, asked Castleman about why this piece was in reference to mourning, Castleman replied, “I know it’s about mourning because it’s me and I made it.”
Each sculpture varies in concept and material, garnering individual attention to each work. I asked Castleman if he had a favorite piece in the exhibit and he replied, “Asking what is your favorite piece is is like asking what your favorite kid is and I only have one kid.”
Castleman’s sculptures are made out of the simplest of materials and yet when displayed in their final construction are quite compelling. The pièce de résistance is undoubtedly “Star-cross’d.” A 25-foot fighter jet touches noses with a flying goose. It is constructed out of cardboard and wood. The idea came to Castleman after he heard the news story of the emergency landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River after striking a flock of Canadian Geese. He states, “I allowed myself to wonder whether there were some kind of strange attraction that a jetliner might engender in a bird -- wondering whether the plane was the object of these geese' powerful romantic attraction. I enjoy imagining a goose falling hopelessly in love with a fighter jet.” This is how we find the sculpture hanging in the gallery. It is the exact moment when these two objects of flight find each other frozen in a tragic kiss.
Join Dayton Castleman at the 930 Art Center, 930 Mary Street, for an opening reception on Friday, November 11th from 7- 10 p.m. A free concert by Philip James Revell and Wayne Graham will start at 8 p.m. The exhibit will be on view until January 1, 2012.
For more information on Dayton Castleman go to http://daytoncastleman.com.
photo: Artist Dayton Castleman with goose