I stopped down to INOVA Gallery in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday to see what the deal was with a group show featuring Milwaukee area artists. I'd heard something about a friend of a friend's work being in the show, and something about tents. I wasn't disappointed. The Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual Artists supports those in the Greater Milwaukee area, and the show itself is a fantastic representation of the kind of quality work coming out of this city lately.
I was particularly drawn to the installation piece by Eddie Villanueva, Pyne Camp, which utilized an entire darkened room with printed wallpaper and three illuminated dome tents. From within the tents there was a rather gentle, serene, yet vaguely disquieting sound of rippling, slurping, and dripping. At first it seems like an innocuous sort of stream trickling, but the longer I stood in the center of the piece, the more the trickling noise got under my skin.
I once did an eight-day survival camping trip in Quetico Provincial Park, an expanse of wilderness in southern Ontario north of the Boundary Waters. For dozens of miles in any direction there were nothing but trees, rocks, lakes, moose, bears, and so on. At night, it was silent. Eerily, emptily silent. Nighttime closing in around our small camp brought with it a sense of smallness, an acute awareness of our tiny plot in the middle of nowhere, and an alertness to every rustle of a branch or plop of a pebble. Villanueva's piece shot me right back to this experience, huddled in the darkness in some invisible nighttime world that could be just about anywhere, able to see only five or six feet from the lantern, and attuned to every little thing, sound, and change in my surroundings.
That the tents are in Pyne Camp are closed, and the sounds emanate from within them, adds to the unease, partly because when one thinks of being in camp, in the dark, the tent is the safe and comfortable place we want to go. It is where the light is, where our friends are, where the cozy, warm blankets are. In the darkness we are outsiders, alone. Which begs the question, where have the people gone?
In Pyne Camp, we can't crawl inside the tents, and instead wander around them, looking around at the outside nighttime world without a place to settle in. Sounds that seem to be coming from within the tents upset their status as safe shelters. And in reality, what separates us from the outside world, inside a tent, but a thin layer of woven material? The printed wallpaper, illuminated only by the diffused light from the tents, surrounds the viewer with a dark outdoor scene, but just like actual nighttime can feel like an impenetrable barrier, our inability to make out the entire scene in Villanueva's Camp lends it the power of atmospheric mystery.
Check out information on the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship group show on now at INOVA here.
And find more work and information by Eddie Villanueva at eddievillaneuva.com.