BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — On Friday, May 7, the arts organization Epsilon Spires will open its Sanctuary Gallery to the public for a safe and socially distanced closing party in honor of the multimedia exhibition “Nature/Nurture,” featuring artists Brent Birnbaum and Christin Ripley. The evening will include a live musical performance by electronic musician J. Icevich.
The exhibit includes collages that Birnbaum created from deconstructed board games that he reassembled into new visual environments using methods that combined serendipity and control. The result is work that subtly challenges the viewer’s sense of expectation — where the familiar closed circuit of a board game is broken open and rearranged into new pathways, sometimes without the possibility of resolution.
“Nature/Nurture” was originally scheduled to open during the early days of the pandemic. When the exhibit was necessarily postponed, Birnbaum used this opportunity to revisit two of the pieces he had created for the show.
“Our simpler times were over. A more chaotic path was ahead, and I wanted to represent that, too,” he said about the revised works.
While the majority of Birnbaum’s pieces in the show are bright and minimal, designed to create a “continuous flowing aesthetic experience” with the architecture and stained glass of the historic church that houses Epsilon Spires, the two collages altered after the appearance of COVID-19 are more complex.
“One is hectic but you can still complete the path — all the shapes connect. The path of the other is not possible to complete. You can see the other side, but you can’t get there. This symbolizes for me things not going according to our human plans and the universe being in control,” Birnbaum explained.
Ripley’s work in “Nature/Nurture” is a series of soft sculptures designed to interact with the physical space of the gallery, the other artwork in the exhibit, and with the viewers themselves. The pillow-like forms echo the playful shapes of board game elements, with interlocking edges that can be configured into a variety of pathways, and the fabric used to create them has been hand-dyed to emulate the hues of light cast by the stained glass windows in the Sanctuary.
The sculptures serve as objects of comfort for viewers, who are invited to sit or recline on them while contemplating the work in the show. Ripley has been working in the medium of soft sculpture since 2014, and she notes that during the pandemic there has been “a renewed interest in artisan-made pillows and soft objects, since we have all spent the last year in solitude, often working remotely from home or on our laptops from bed,” and this has created a demand for “unique, soft, supportive structures.”
The music for the closing party will be provided by Icevich, who will perform an improvisation using analog drones, synthesizer arpeggios, and subtle rhythmic patterns run through delays and oscillating filters. The unique acoustics of the Sanctuary and the possible inclusion of the church’s 1906 Estey pipe organ in the performance will further enhance this distinctive sonic experience.
The event will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. and admission is free. Go online to epsilonspires.org for more information.