Weston Art Gallery Searches for Meaning on the Margins

Weston Art Gallery's new exhibit "Thoughts Made Visceral" seeks to uncover the messages that lie between, underneath, outside of and entirely beyond the lines.

click to enlarge "Mutually Exclusive," one of the pieces in the exhibit. - Artist: Alex McCay
Artist: Alex McCay
"Mutually Exclusive," one of the pieces in the exhibit.

Thoughts Made Visceral is an exhibition that literally speaks for itself. 

A new addition to the Weston Art Gallery set to open Friday (Feb. 1), the exhibition examines marginalia through the textual, visual and audio work of Cincinnati-grown artists Britni Bicknaver, Vittoria Daiello, Elese Daniel and Alex McClay. (McClay is currently based in Athens, Georgia.) 

“The title is a little bit of a joke,” says C.M. Turner, the exhibition’s curator. “It’s this idea of taking your ideas, your cognitive work, and making it visceral in the world. Making it felt.”

It’s also a play on Richard Field’s book Thought Made Visible, a survey of the text-based paintings of American conceptual artist Mel Bochner. 

Thoughts Made Visceral seeks to uncover the messages that lie between, underneath, outside of and entirely beyond the lines of a traditional gallery. It’s a fully immersive experience that will occupy both figurative and literal spaces that are typically ignored. Even ambient soundscapes designed by Bicknaver will fill the Weston’s atrium — an element designed to transport listeners to different headspaces through a rotation of noises that transition from crowds of people to rainstorms to the slow commotion of downtown traffic and beyond. 

Marginalia, part of the exhibit’s focus, refers to the notes we scribble in the margins of books. “Marginalia exists as something in the periphery,” Turner says. “If the hard work of sense-making is done in the margins, to occupy a marginalized space is to be pushing up against what is accepted.”

Perhaps the most exact interpretation of marginalia is Daiello’s series of works on paper, which stem from her experience as a professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. She “points to the marginalization of educators and the work that they have to do beyond what we expect them to,” says Turner. “A lot of what she’s showing are written responses to students’ works and assigned readings.”

Further utilizing the written word, Daniel’s poetry is fragmented and scattered throughout the space in the form of vinyl lettering — displayed above doorways, in corners, on the floor and in other unused physical areas. The gallery is arranged in such a way that, to read the poem completely, the audience must move around the room in search of the next stanza. Treating the gallery like a printed page, Daniel’s writing becomes the marginalia in the sidelines. 

McClay’s work calls for a similar viewing approach. One piece featured, titled “Land Fall,” is made from pieces of black and silver emergency blankets that are sewn together to create messages in the contrasting colors. 

“To be able to read this you’ll have to move in 360. It’s written in a way that you can either read the lines across or you can come up and down. It gives a similar kind of message both ways but you’re kind of like gaining more the more you’re looking into it," Turner says. "The more you’re forcing yourself to engage with it, the more you’re getting out of it.That’s really at the heart of the idea of this show: It’s that the more time you spend engaging with something, you’re going to gain additional payoff.” 

Thoughts Made Visceral aims to push the viewer to subvert their preconceptions of how art should be experienced. 

“What I’m looking for is somewhat of a disruption of your everyday,” Turner says. “So even if the everyday expectation is to walk into a gallery and see framed things on the wall, then to upset that a little bit. To get the audience or viewer to get tripped up to be thinking more about what they’re actually working through.”

In essence, this is a show meant to snap our brains out of autopilot and teach us to be active participants in our consumption of art, and to become more involved with what we find. 

“Visitors will be prompted to question more but judge less,” Turner says.

Thoughts Made Visceral joins two other exhibitions, Dominic Guarnaschelli: Incognitum and Migiwa Orimo: Proximity of Syllables, for an opening reception 6 p.m. Feb. 1 and will be on display through March 24 at the Weston Art Gallery (650 Walnut St., Downtown). Friday’s opening reception will be followed by a gallery talk led by Turner and the artists 2 p.m. Saturday. More info: cincinnatiarts.org/weston-art-gallery

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