A general rule of thumb when viewing art in a gallery: Look with your eyes, not your hands. But a new installation at Charlotte’s Latin American Contemporary Art Projects encourages the opposite. It’s up this Saturday at the gallery to help kick off festivities for the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. And its subject matter? The place between the living and the dead.
So often we’re told “don’t touch!” when it comes to viewing a piece of art. But the installation “Within the Fold” wants viewers to throw that notion out the window and not only touch, but mark on this piece of art.
"I wanted a human print on the piece itself , so we are going to ask participants to actually take a marker and create pathway as they walk through. So you can see their actions and then that represents their life passage," said Lee Baumgarten, an artist and educator who creates paintings and sculptures. He’s the co-creator of this piece.
The inspiration for the installation came from artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner, an activist and a painter whose work focuses on civil rights and her Mexican heritage. She knew she wanted to create a piece that explained her beliefs on where people go after they die. And she knew she’d need some help because she wanted to build something people could interact with.
"I didn’t know how to explain how I wanted people to experience the other side. My ancestors believe that when we die we go to other dimensions," she said.
She showed Baumgarten her concept by bunching up a piece of fabric, which created folds within the material. He immediately got what she was trying to convey.
"The key to understanding it is that we are within the fold and we can’t quite see each other and know each other the way we do here three-dimensionally. But we can still sense their presence because of actions that happen in those folds. I thought it was a beautiful thing and my mom had taught me the same way," he said.
The folds in the fabric represent different dimensions. The idea is that when we die, we go to a different dimension or fold. But we’re all still on the same piece of fabric, feeling the tugs and pulls of people who have passed on.
The installation they came up with to explain that concept is simple - at first glance. Baumgarten used 10-foot tall, quarter-inch steel rods to serve as poles that guide people through the pathway that represents the world between the living and the dead. They used a stretchy polyester material as the “walls” of the makeshift corridor.
The winding path has curves that lean out and in, almost like a body is pressing up against the fabric to take a closer look at the person walking through the path.
The walls are white so light easily passes through, but the fabric isn’t translucent enough to let you see exactly who is on the other side. But you can sense them by the cast of their shadow, or if they touch the fabric.
The marks people make on the fabric as they walk through will leave a visual human fingerprint. But arguably the more important creation left on the piece is the one you won’t see. It’s the quiet sound of fingers running across the polyester walls, bumping into the hands of others running their fingers across the fabric … on the other side.
Once you’ve made it through, a large boat-like vessel stands at the end of the path. Baumgarten created the sculpture out of intersecting and overlapping wires. It’s open to interpretation what this vessel can represent. For Torres-Weiner, it harkens back to her Mexican roots.
"I love the boat. When he told me that he was going to build a boat, I said this is perfect. My ancestors believe in order to go to the world of the dead and to make land, you have to travel. And that boat is going to take you to that place," Torres-Weiner said.
That “other place” for visitors will be the rest of the exhibit, which is a celebration of the upcoming Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. This other side will be filled sweets, flowers, and altars created by artists for loved ones who have passed on, but live on within the folds.