Lord Hall in Orono was always in the back of their minds as Susan Smith and Samantha Jones began about six months ago planning and working together on an art installation that would include elements of sculpture and painting.
In fact, it was the smaller of the two exhibition spaces inside the University of Maine building that figured into their “grand design,” as Smith put it recently during the opening reception for their “Spao et Ageiro: A Visual Conversation.”
It worked out exactly as Smith, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Maine, and Jones, who earned this year her BFA from UMaine, had hoped.
“We didn’t plan on it, but we felt that we had to have some space in mind while we were thinking about this,” said Jones, standing in the 11-by-40 foot gallery to the side of Lord Hall’s main display area. “This idea of a corridor of space was always in the back of our minds, and this was the most relevant kind of space to do this.”
The rest of the Lord Hall exhibition space is taken up this summer with “Vistas: Landscapes by Maine Artists,” which includes works by painters Lydia Cassatt, Philip Frey, William Irvine, Nina Jerome, MaJo Keleshian, Michael Lewis, James Linehan, Ed Nadeau and Alan Stubbs.
Both shows close Friday, Aug. 6.
“Spao et Ageiro” has already had short exhibits in smaller spaces in Blue Hill and Bangor, but anyone who has already seen the work might want to visit Orono for another viewing. That’s because Smith and Jones have arranged the installation in a different way each time it has been displayed, based on the size and shape of the installation space.
“We’re grateful to have this space, but our original intent was to travel with it and show it outside of the university, and that really made it clear how limiting alternative spaces can be,” Smith said.
The phrase spao et ageiro is Greek, Jones said, and means breaking apart and coming back together, which describes not only the idea that the installation can be shown in two parts, if necessary, but also describes the artists’ process.
“We would work vigorously independent of each other and then come back together every couple of weeks to see how it jibed together and have great conversations about it,” Jones said.
Jones’ part of the work is a series of tubes made out of a material called papercrete, which is a mix of shredded paper, Portland Concrete, sand and strands of different types of fiber. The tubes are clustered in groups, with some tubes standing and others on the floor — like a field of ancient ruins.
The tubes also resemble the kind of experimentation an archaeologist might take from a site — a kind of “archaeological dig of the soul,” Jones said. The fibers and shredded paper, which is legible in places, represent the thread of a story. Jones felt packing the forms used to make the tubes was also representative of the same idea, because she wasn’t sure exactly which colors would end up next to each other.
It was all revealed when she removed the molds.
“For me, it’s about portals through time, if you were to go take core samples of stories instead of archaeology,” she said.
The papercrete tubes are placed in the gallery with the intent of leading to Smith’s contribution to “Spao et Ageiro,” in the form of three two-dimensional encaustic works, in which Smith rubs raw pigment into the surface of the birch-backed painting. The surface is coated in wax, which the artist builds up or scrapes down the surface as they see fit.
Smith’s three works — two hang on a wall, with another placed on the floor — deal, like those of Jones, in the idea of ruin, and the concept of telling a story. The abstract paintings are based on the photography of Eliot Porter, who in the 1960s shot images of Glen Canyon in Utah. Porter documented the damming of the canyon, which eventually filled up and disappeared from view.
“It was the same idea as Sam’s idea of the stories, that this is a canyon that is closed off and lost,” Smith said. “We have [Porter’s] photographs, but this is kind of that idea of a story that’s lost forever and uncovered through a scraping away of the surface.”
The paintings are abstract and nonrepresentational, but the flow of water is evident in each work, with the hope the viewer will be able to flow from Jones’ work to Smith’s, and back again. The use of encaustic — of scraping away at the image — as a medium also connects to the idea of the flow between the two aspects of the installation.
The artists also intended for the surface of Smith’s images to play off the striations of Jones’ tubes. They’re also hoping the viewer will understand the reason for placing one of Smith’s works on the floor.
“We have the idea of ruin, we have the idea of flow, and our conversations,” Smith said. “Light flows off the surface, has to end up on the floor and it’s just fallen there.”
Following its Lord Hall appearance, “Spao et Ageiro” will have to be reconfigured again when the installation is on display Aug. 16-23 at the Thompson Free Library in Dover-Foxcroft.
“It feels like that’s what happens to stories as they go down through time,” Jones said. “You have to retell the story.”
IF YOU GO
The Lord Hall gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free. For information, call the University of Maine department of art at 581-3245 or go to www.umaine.edu/art/exhibitions.htm.