By James Foritano
On the first Saturday of the summer of ’12, I walked into an affair of the heart with other invitees dressed in the requested white. It was not my first such affair — I’m no stick in the mud — but the first with a specific address: 78 Front Street, Marblehead. And it was, I have to say, a total immersion.
I had met Deborah Bohnert before in her studio, but then it was strictly artist to art reporter since I was writing up her recent exhibit at the Simmons College gallery. You can imagine me as all ink-stained, bowed over my clipboard and interested only in the cold, if intriguing facts.
This was very different. Walking off the cobblestones of Marblehead’s picturesque harbor, I met Ms. Bohnert as a hostess, warmly welcoming and bidding me to walk into a capacious heart she’s been assembling for years from her own paintings, photographs and sculptures as well as a wealth of found objects: repositioned, re-imagined, re-invented.
Though it was one heart, linked by a winding path and repeated notes of both dark and pastel colors, I had the distinct impression that each guest was walking through very individual experiences.
I’ve always been drawn by the bass notes of rusted metals, especially as implements drawn from our industrial past when powerful tools were also brawny. Given that predilection, it was logical that I would stop and linger by what might well might have been the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’ — but with mysterious protrusions — leaning against a corner wall.
Simply re-purposing something in another environment gives it a new meaning especially if that thing is juxtaposed to other objects with a countervailing resonance. Pastel tinted petticoats of delicate tulle were suspended here and there from the ceiling and rotated silently on the few amps of hidden electric motors; pom-poms packed together on the floor seemed to scurry like migrating lemmings along trajectories known only to themselves. The whirling petticoats, the scurrying pom-poms were whimsical, even girlish: wishes floating on hopes, light enough to founder, but also to be re-positioned for another try. No rules of domestic economy are violated by these hedged bets — so housewifely in their caution and sense.
But then what sensible household would lug in from wherever this gargantuan… whatever — of no possible use, so disconnected so dumped? And yet so majestically weighty, so discouraged by seasons of weather, yet still standing tall.
Aha! This is no sensible household, but the human heart! Standing here in this hodge-podge of the delicate and the brutal, the random and the exquisitely positioned, the rule of thumb and the rule of whatever feels good at the moment, I feel at home; and still, I want to explore this particular home.
For though I might intuit certain ‘rules’ of the nest, so to speak, just by sharing a common humanity with Ms. Bohnert, I will never intuit her particular application of those rules.
For example, as poised as I am, both personally and professionally, I’ve met with too many circumstances which have left me flat on my face or some other part of my anatomy that was never designed for hard landings — or any ‘landings’ whatsoever. Therefore, I experience a surge of recognition, unwelcome though it be, when I sight any of the myriad cuddly little animals not primped and propped up on display but sprawled any which way, and so silently upended in perplexity that I share their embarrassment. But I stay on the path.
I advance on the path, slowly, in order to examine other triumphs and pratfalls. I identify for example with the willowy, wistful beauty of one transparent nylon stocking dropping from the ceiling to eye level, its darker seam twisting this way and that in the ambient air currents like the backbone of an undulating sea creature. (I don’t usually wear nylon stockings, unless the event promises free food, then I’ll wear anything, gladly.)
And yet how often have I lost something I thought was vital to find myself limping along even more gracefully, with some practice, on, in or beside the opportunity fate has handed me. Your life, I’m sure, is much better planned, but when I think of one of a pair, the other missing, I think of my (unimproved) self.
Advancing further along the path, I study strings of fading photographs of people who look familiar, as though I should know them, but can’t for the life of me inhabit any of the dramas they are enacting and seem to be beckoning me to join. So like the photographs in my own desultory family album — mine and not mine.
And how about those mysterious totems further down the path? They look like they were once those skins of leather you stuff with cushy newspapers then set your feet on. Now they’re stacked into columns of diminishing circumference like the rock cairns a back-packer finds at turns of the trail; a veil of shiny lacquer or glue seems to assist their balance. Is it the ‘glue’ of applied memory or is it extruded by some interior necessity? Are they obstacles or markers? Obsessions or epiphanies?
Salted among these found objects are works of art which question the concept of ‘finished’ by emphasizing process. You’ll no doubt find your own examples; I stopped to smile at an ambiguously inflated object whose bright yellow color and emerging (or deflating) ears gave my smile back to me, refurbished. Pop art, or art about to go POP!?!
I never did get anywhere near the ‘end’ of the walkway in “Walk Into My Heart” but there was so much to see and more to guess, that I would heartily recommend making an appointment with artist Deborah Bohnert while her invitation still stands. Tell her Jim sent you.
(For more on Deborah Bohnert, and how to contact her to schedule a visit to see her installation, visit http://www.deborahbohnert.com/)