Aspects of SECCA’s grand reopening

by Keith Barber

$1.8 million investment pays dividends

When the leadership of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, or SECCA, could not raise the funds to conduct major renovations of the museum in late 2007, they reached out to the state of North Carolina. With the help of NC Sen. Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth), SECCA received $1.8 million to make major repairs to its infrastructure. The reopening gala on July 15 marked the end of an 18-month hiatus and highlighted the important role SECCA plays in the Winston-Salem arts scene. The museum has a storied tradition of taking chances with exhibits that challenge us and pitch us out from our comfort zone to make us see our world in a new way. The success of SECCA is inextricably tied to the success of Winston-Salem living up to its moniker as the City of the Arts and Innovation.

Artist Tim Hawkinson’s ‘Foot Quilt’

This massive sculpture made of silver polyester fabric and Dacron batting is the centerpiece of SECCA’s Look Again exhibit currently on display. Described as a giant silver tapestry magnifying a photographic scan of the artist’s heavily-creased sole, “Foot Quilt” is one of those works you can stare at for hours on end. Like a Rorschach inkblot, it’s meaning lies in the eye of the beholder.

Trompe l’oeil

The French term for “trick of the eye,” SECCA’s Look Again exhibit goes beyond the artistic tradition of making the viewer look at everyday objects in a new way. The fantastic exhibit, a conglomeration of work by international artists, reinterprets the trompe l’oeil tradition, said SECCA curator Steven Matijcio. “In the past, it’s been used to dazzle the person with illusion but in the contemporary world, where illusions are all around us — they’re ubiquitous. The trompe l’oeil becomes sort of a way out of that.”

Papier-m’cH’ masterpieces

They appear to be made of rock, metal or bushels of fruit, but they are actually colored paper mache woven in such a way as to trick the eye. These mini-masterpieces lie at the foot of the “Foot Quilt” tapestry and invoke a variety of thoughts on how the human brain processes stimuli and categorizes objects. The stalagmite sculpture, the silver bells sculpture and the cantaloupes in fishnet sculpture teach a simple lesson: To quote Obi- Wan Kenobi, “Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.”

Death to the filing cabinet

This untitled work brings to mind the 1999 film, Office Space, the story of a worker drone that exacts revenge against his employer. A quiver of arrows find their mark in the side of a beige metal filing cabinet. The illusion is the filing cabinet is sinking into the ground and blood the color and texture of white paint is dripping down its side and covering the floor.

Illusions of infinity

Several of the works included in SECCA’s Look Again exhibit deal with the optical illusion of infinity. There is a fluorescent bottomless pit, which is composed of a light fixture, a 3-by 4-foot mirror, and a cement case. Looking into the mirror creates the illusion of a green-hued stone hallway, like something out of a science fiction movie. “Infinite Garden” by Chul- Hyun Ahn also captured the imagination of art lovers at the grand reopening. Ahn’s work projects a garden scene straight out of Eden into an infinite forest passage.

Human armchari

This exhibit created quite a stir at the gala. Human arms and legs protruding from a green armchair caused some of the younger arts patrons to “shake hands with the exhibit.” This untitled work appeared to be a fusion of performance art and trompe l’oeil.

Steven Matijcio’s leadership

Matijcio was named SECCA’s curator two years ago, and his vast knowledge of international art and exhibition styles has had an immediate impact. For Matijcio, SECCA’s mission is to spread the joy and passion inspired by great art, so the grand reopening was a big night for all of SECCA’s staff. “These things have been in our heads and planning and on paper and now it’s the first opportunity for the public to really access them, so I think that’s what I’m most excited about — really sharing artists that I love,” Matijcio said. “It’s like seeing a good movie or reading a good book and sharing that with a friend.”

Conversational heads

One of the most ingenious works in the Look Again exhibit was an untitled piece that features dozens paper silhouette cutouts of human heads rotating on an axis. A spotlight projected against the paper cutouts projects an image on the opposite wall that creates the illusion of two heads talking simultaneously. Remember those books you could buy where you flip the pages real fast and an animated scene plays out? This piece uses the same principle of the human eye’s “persistence of vision” to achieve this wonderful effect.

Performance artists

No museum re-opening gala would be complete without performance artists. A female drummer covered in silver dust acting like a toy drummer would play a riff on her snare drum every time a patron dropped a business card into a bin. Then, she would freeze until another card was dropped. Other artists included a golden statue and a man covered by a sleeping bag — great stuff at any museum reopening gala.