Moving pieces

Automated sculpture can be really cool or really antiquated. Sometimes, antiquated is cool in its own right. Kinetic sculpture made a splash in the last century with the likes of Moholy Nagy and the mastermind of it all, Jean Tinguely. Moving machines are fun on the first take, but need a little substance if they are to sustain our interest.

Dan Gilsdorf, an artist trained in sculpture who also works in installation, is moving into that area. He creates objects – from top to bottom, very little found junk here – and gives his pieces small missions in movement. All of the work illustrates cyclical patterns in our society, and our ability to wage violence in particular.

Gilsdorf, along with Christy Nyboer and Alexis Amann, showed their work recently in conjunction with Portland Modern at the Hall Gallery (630 S.E. 3rd Ave.). Portland Modern, organized by Mark Brandau, is a publication full of unrepresented artists, complimented by exhibitions around town. Some nay-sayers originally brushed off the project, perhaps lacking faith in the talent pool or in Brandau. Either way, he must be having a good laugh as the project keeps gathering speed. Soon Portland State University’s own esteemed Sue Taylor will curate the next group of Portland Modern artists.

The _Hall Gallery gave Gilsdorf a corner to spread out in and take over, installing works that relied on light as much as they did automation. The star of the show was "Behemoth," a small piece of sculpture casting a big shadow, literally. Behemoth consisted of small derricks he built himself, bobbing up and down as they do (or rather did) all over Texas and other parts of this country. A theater light provided the rest, lit over the piece in such a way that the image cast a spell over the entire exhibition.

There is an uncanny nostalgic romance to the bobbing oil well derrick, plodding along with an uncertain future. Gilsdorf takes iconic emblems of our country’s aggression and ruthless development, and puts them in the context of where they are going: in the past, with a fresh date, slowly losing speed. We are standing in the shadow of oil, literally. The shadow creates an experience of a time-based nature and also paints a pretty picture. The subject matter is tied to current military actions we face today, but is also a look back to a long-ago dark optimism seen in films like "Giant."

Because of the work’s theatrical quality, it is easy to see the connections to film and photography even though we are really looking at a straight-ahead piece of sculpture. The artist attempts to amplify small things to make them more imposing, just as our culture does. The dominating image is not grounded in reality and is not something you can touch, but nonetheless fills the space.

Gilsdorf has created other works that address the glory of the past, especially in terms of boys with their toys. Guns and battleships are an all-important part of his repertoire. A goal here would be to transcend the boys with their toys theme, for while masculine fun and violence may ring true for the artist, some of us have had our fill. I think Gilsdorf can do it though. Behemoth was a great indication of how to utilize all those triggers and rise above.