Monday, March 7, 2011

BASALT, Eric Franklin

Basalt is an installation at Autzen Gallery at PSU's Nueberger Hall. He has taken a distinct element of the Pacific Northwest geology--basalt--and transformed it from massive stone outcroppings into spindly glass. Anyone who has been to Latourell Falls on the Columbia Gorge will be familiar with the hexagonal columns formed by cooling lava. At the falls they form strangely geometric outcroppings from the surrounding cliffs. Eric Franklin has chosen to represent this shape using only the edges. Thin glass rods are welded together in repeated patterns, suggesting a solid form, but created almost entirely out of negative space. About six feet high and twelve or so feet long, the installation fills the middle of the gallery. The glass rods themselves are only about a quarter of an inch thick, and remind me of melting icicles as the light passes through them. Tension is created from the dichotomy between actual stone as it exists in our memory, and the fragile forms we see here. It was not hard to imagine a clumsy visitor tripping into the sculpture and bringing the whole contraption down.

Toward the entrance of the gallery, the forms are smaller and more numerous, giving way toward the back to larger forms. This may be intended to quicken the rhythm of these repetitive forms. I suspect there was an element of learning as you go as the artwork was created. It could be that this was the earliest part of the sculpture made, and he refined his methods as the piece progressed. If so, this doesn't bother me, as I like to see a little experimentation reflected in the final work. I talked to him briefly about making this project, which sounded awkward and difficult. He would have to prop up the finished parts with one hand, while welding new glass rods on with the other. The end result is a theme and variation of similar shapes, some taller, some smaller. In addition the glass rods throw spidery patterns of shadows on the gallery floor. I imagine these patterns will change during daytime lighting.

Franklin's website shows work that reflects biology more than geology, showing another side to his artwork. Several works are eerie skeletal forms, also made of glass, but including neon lighting as well.

Eric Franklin runs the materials workshop here at PSU. He is the one who gave us the wood-shop tour.

Matt Hall

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