As the trees outside continue their slow springtime bloom, Alan and Lorna Crichton are enjoying the bloom inside their Waterfall Arts building in Belfast.
Even two weeks after Waterfall Arts’ current exhibition, “Mobile Units,” was first installed inside the High Street facility, small green leaves were continuing to grow off the top of Barbara Andrus’ large wood sculptural shapes. The installation even continues to smell of the forest.
“We’re not watering them,” said Lorna Crichton, who co-founded Waterfall Arts with her husband, Alan Crichton.
“It’d be pretty hard to do that,” he added.
After all, they’d have to take a ladder to get to the top of “Mobile Units.”
The blooming leaves certainly seem appropriate for an installation by Andrus whose work takes inspiration from the woods and nature of both Swan’s Island and New York City. The current installation, which went up over five days at the beginning of May, is a recycling of sorts as Andrus used several small elements and pieces from some of her previous installations to create monumental-scale works inside the Clifford Gallery at Waterfall Arts.
Although there was a practical reason for reusing small pieces and incorporating them into a new installation — Andrus was going back and forth between Maine and New York and therefore her work had to be mobile and portable — but her incorporation of older work also speaks to her interest in recycling parts.
“Recycling as much as possible, I tend to keep key parts of these [former] pieces,” Andrus wrote in an artist’s statement about the Waterfall Arts show. “I was curious to mix up and incorporate these saved parts into one work.”
The largest work in the gallery makes up a room within a room as the visitor walks between large panels made of entwined twigs and sticks.
From a distance the installation looks like one piece, but it takes time to fully explore the work and understand what’s happening. As Andrus wrote, she decided to collage the parts over a large form rather than layering the parts, so the viewer has a better perspective of the separate pieces.
Some sections have a gridlike quality to the lines, while other areas are so tangled that it’s easy to imagine a bird or some kind of animal making its home inside the installation. The entire piece is set near a large gallery window.
“There’s a terrific linearity to it all,” Alan Crichton said. “It gets so dense in some points and then it opens up in others, and she’s got the light behind it from the windows that makes a nice linear pattern.”
Andrus’ interest in reusing her work and collecting different bits and pieces also comes through in her choices of media and material. It’s a challenge for the viewer to look closely for the different types of strings and twines Andrus used to tie together the individual elements to the main structure, and to peer through the sticks and twigs at the thicker areas of the pieces.
Some of the wood is peeled or carved, but is mostly left alone. The different woods include varieties of maple and birch, peeled lilac, pear, poplar and beech.
Andrus also uses milkweed pods, which are enclosed in a sack made of nylon netting. If a window in the gallery is open on a breezy day, the pods are stirred up and float hazily in their net sacks. Andrus was inspired by the time she spent on Swan’s Island last fall, when she saw a particular moment when the air was filled with a riot of the seeds.
“With the milkweed pieces, I wanted to both capture the milkweed seeds but also allow them to move within the structures,” Andrus wrote.
In addition to Andrus’ wood sculptural work, the exhibition includes a series of cyanotypes, in which prints are created with iron oxide, the same substance used in blueprints. The chemicals are brushed onto paper, allowed to dry in the dark, and then placed in sunlight or under a lamp, with elements such as shells and twigs arranged on the paper. The result is a painting that resembles a film negative.
The shells and twigs Andrus used hearken back to her collecting, and her interest in nature, which envelops the viewer in “Mobile Units.” It’s a perfect match for the Crichtons’ space.
“Barbara really took to the Waterfall Arts notion of mixing art and nature,” Alan Crichton said. “This was a place where she could express that.”
Barbara Andrus will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, June 1, at Waterfall Arts, 256 High St., Belfast, as part of the organization’s monthly lecture series. Admission is $7. “Mobile Units” will be on display until June 26. For more information, call 338-2222 or go to www.waterfallarts.org.