In "Functional Diversity 2," function is a creative touchstone.
When is a table not a table but sculpture? If a chair is miniaturized and made dysfunctional, is it sill furniture? Do room dividers actually have to divide a room? The current show at the Eric Schindler Gallery functions to ask a plethora of diverse questions. "Functional Diversity 2," in its second year, gathers 15 local artists to exhibit handmade objects that traditionally fall under the rubric of "craft." The viewer is asked to look at everyday objects chairs, tables, a coat rack, sideboard, lamps and contemplate them in a new context that of a gallery. But perhaps this is misleading; these are not your run-of-the-mill tables and chairs. They have a certain ineffable quality that is amplified in the gallery setting. The objects on display have a physical function, yes, but they also have an edge. Take Hunter Webb's "144," a prominent yellow satinwood table with traditional lines and a symmetrical profile. The edge? You can plug this table in. When electrified, the table lights up like a pinball machine with red, yellow and blue bulbs in a grid beneath a glass surface. One could dine at this table, but one would probably wind up with acid stomach. Hence, Webb presents a seemingly functional object a flat surface with four legs and he stymies that function by introducing glowing, distracting and rather nauseating dining lights. Susan Whittier creates a similar functional foil with her use of chairs. She shrinks them and places them in cages or forms them out of animal bones, springs and wheels, and displays them on pedestals. A chair, one of the most useful and functional objects in our remote-control world, has been rendered diminutive, uncomfortable and inaccessible. Not all the artwork on display has this functional/dysfunctional push-pull though. Some objects celebrate the pure beauty of line, shape, texture and geometric simplicity. Ezra Hitzeman's "Coat Rack" is a compellingly curved form of mahogany strips. It arcs upward to the heavens yet also remains firmly rooted to the earth with its steel horizontal pegs that handily balance a hat or jacket. While most of the artists do not attempt to infuse "fine art" titles on their objects, Kevin Lipnicki intriguingly titles his wood-encased mirror "Election Year." Crafted from luminous cherry stained wood and bolted with brass and wood pegs, they make one wonder about his meaning. Viewers see themselves when they look at Lipnicki's work. Is he alluding to an actual ballot booth, a vote of confidence, the political clout of one's reflected image or to something else all together? The ambiguity of mirrored identity and mistaken choices seem particularly fitting in light of the presidential election recount in Florida. All the objects in "Functional Diversity 2" are functional in that they do something beyond hold mere aesthetic value, but does that lessen their appeal? On the contrary, these diverse objects have an inherent purpose that defines the artist's perimeters. Their function is not a hurdle but a creative touchstone that sends these objects beyond craft and even beyond fine art to a new level that in many ways is significantly more intriguing. Nevertheless, the debate over the value of fine art vs. craft began 500 years ago and continues today. Still, if a functional object ceases to function, is it still a craft? In the words of Dan Rather during the election, that issue may yet be "too close to
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