Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mechanical Menagerie

Mechanical Menagerie, the newest exhibit in the Museum’s 17 “ramp boxes,” showcases an eye-popping array of intricate creatures – lizards, goats, birds, bugs, an antelope, a frog and more – created from disassembled computers, discarded cell phones and other mangled machines and trashy treasures.

The incredible collection is the creation of Providence artist Ann P. Smith, who received a BFA in Illustration from RISD in 2003 and has since exhibited her work across in shows and galleries across the country – most recently at The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and the Ohio Craft Museum.

Ann refers to her creatures as “robots,” and her inspiration came from a 2002 RISD assignment to create a technology illustration. She had recently begun working in 3-D and was stumped about how to make the connection until she saw a heap of junk outside her apartment, topped by a broken telephone. “I could do something with this!” she thought and ended up making a horse that won her rave reviews and a prestigious scholarship.
She realized she was onto something and continued to collect trashed gadgets. At first, she had to walk the streets to look for junk, but no more – now people give her plenty of broken things to disassemble! Ann’s process starts with sorting the salvaged scraps by shapes or colors. Sometimes she approaches the junk with a vision of her next creation but other times the pieces themselves inspire animal parts. Then she makes a sketch, which turns into a drawing, which turns into the finished piece – after lots of refining along the way.
Ann came in last week to install the exhibit, with the help of long-time friend and former Museum AmeriCorps member Maris Wicks! It was exciting to watch as each creature was revealed and put in its place.
I’ve seen Ann’s work many times before, but I’m always amazed by her creative choice of materials and the intricacy and personality of each sculpture. The use of flashlight bulbs makes her owl charmingly wide eyed, while a computer mouse makes a perfectly streamlined sea turtle body and tangled telephone cords and wires are spectacular jellyfish tentacles.

I also love the little touches, like the inventive use of keyboard letters to spell out the name of each creature. The brightly colored backgrounds really make her creatures pop, and the use of natural materials to create simple environments is a wonderful contrast to the electronic parts.
Museum staff are SO excited that these captivating creations will be on display through January 31. Next time you’re here, take a peek at the creatures as you pass by and see what parts you can identify!
And this weekend – October 3 and 4 – families can check out the exhibit and drop into the Creature Laboratory from 1:00 – 4:00 PM to invent some curious critters of their own!

Visit Ann’s website to learn more about her work, which is also available at the risd/works store.

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