Minimalistic exhibit reflects journey through sex, religion

January in Alaska is pretty frosty, and as a result, many people do not have the opportunity or the guts to spend a lot of time outside looking at trees. This is part of the reason “Wood Metal,” which opened Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Student Union Gallery, was especially revitalizing.

American art in the 20th century tends to focus on highly stimulating themes, and the trend is to produce vibrant, blatantly expressive or intense pieces of work.

However, “Wood Metal” taps into the underlying current of minimalism that has been increasing in popularity throughout recent years. This change in direction may be due in part to the fact that artists have begun to realize the effect that their work has on the human psyche.

It was with this in mind that I found myself meandering through the gallery with the others attending the gallery opening. I found myself relaxed and contemplative amidst the imaginative constructions of artists Melissa Bixby and Sarah Piper. It’s obvious that the two women have a mutual grasp on this increasingly peaceful approach to contemporary art.

Both Bixby and Piper are seniors graduating this spring. Bixby is pursuing a B.A. in art, while Piper is pursuing a double major in art and mathematics, which is reflected in the structures of many of her pieces.

Because the two artists have been friends since they met as freshman, it is no surprise that their pieces are incredibly complementary.

“We don’t have emotionally traumatic or political issues to express,” Bixby said. “We just go where our materials will allow us. I am hoping people feel free to lay back and enjoy the visual and physical aspects of it.”

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Her piece, “About 6’2″: a work in progress” appears to be a simple tree trunk that has been chipped away. But after reading the title, I could imagine a wealth of characters just waiting to be brought out by its artist. She offered a great opportunity for imagination simply by giving it a distinct title.

“I believe that art is an emotional process, which the viewer should respond to,” Piper wrote in her artist statement. “To that end, I create work that incorporates a strong sense of formal design as well as an emotional component.”

It’s quite a feat to balance mathematics, sensuality, spirituality and emotional freedom so precariously. Much of her work hints at the symbolic implications of basic human journeys, sex and religion.

“I don’t sit down with the intention to rate a religious piece,” Piper said. “However, I think it does play a role subconsciously in most people’s art.”

Several of her pieces are triptych groups of three items that make up a single artwork, which in the history of art have held religious or superstitious meanings in many cultures.

Within the gallery walls, people walk slowly with relaxed faces, their thoughts free to wander. I watch them and wonder if they find this mix of metal and wood comparable to a mirror, both in reflectivity and frame.

I can say for myself, though, that not only did I enjoy the pieces, I discovered a lot of parallels between humanity, nature and myself encoded in this subtle, simplistic art.