Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ancient spaceships

Turing Exterra: A work of glass and steel by Rik Allen
Turing Exterra by Rik Allen

Rik Allen’s fantasy spacecraft at Traver Gallery
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sep 24, 2009

Rick Allen makes amazing spaceships out of steel and glass — mostly glass that looks like steel (or perhaps pewter). What’s fascinating about them is that they look like spacecraft from a future world as envisioned in the early to mid 20th century. I’m talking early sci-fi spacecraft: Buck Rogers, Lost in Space, The Jetsons, but also some pretty authentic looking stuff from the early years of actual as opposed to sci-fi space exploration.

“The futuristic antiquity of this series was inspired by my lifelong fascination with the design of technology — especially the ‘new’ technology of foregone years,” Allen says. These ships are fascinating to see and to contemplate. But does that make them art? To answer that question involves a whole other vein of philosophical and aesthetic consideration that I can’t tackle in the limited space of this column. Even if his work is not museum quality art in the sense that a David Smith or Richard Serra or Louise Bourgeois is, his pieces are something more than just novelty items or conversation pieces. There is aesthetic beauty in these as well, which has more to do with the inherent beauty of the media than with the artist’s arrangement of forms. Give Allen credit for accentuating that inherent beauty in ingenious ways. And for his thoroughness in expressing his personal obsession with space travel.

The most intriguing elements to these sculptures are the use of light and the treatment of surface. The bodies of his ships look like old metal that is corroded with frosted and bubbled glass windows or portholes, but they are actually, for the most part, blown glass that is coated with a kind of metal foil and mounted on steel legs or bases. The surfaces are truly beautiful, and the manner in which the glass lets light in gives them the appearance of being lighted from within. Many of them have a red or orange glow as if there is some kind of high intensity engine inside — the heat of liftoff.

Plus there is the added element of being able to peer inside the glass for surprise views. Look closely for openings you can peer into.

Golem (I love the title) is a saucer on spindly legs with a bubble glass dome on top and inside instruments that look like satellite dishes or ancient instruments of navigation such as some of our readers may recall from a show of Morris Graves sculptures at Tacoma Art Museum.

Buzz may be a tribute to Buzz Aldren, or maybe Buzz Lightyear. Maybe both. It looks like a single engine from a 1950s jet liner and simultaneously like the kind of single-occupancy spacecraft the Jetsons buzzed around in. Minimum Mono Shuttle and Flurbian Nightwatcher are similar one-or-two-person craft. Funny little things.

Turning Exterra is similar to Golem as it marches on spindly legs and has satellite dish-like instruments inside a big frosted glass body. It’s an ominous mechanical creature that is obviously out to destroy Earth. Beware.

I highly recommend this show if, for nothing else, the memories and speculations it invokes and the beauty of the surface and light of Allen’s sculptures.

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through Oct. 4, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

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