When you think of sculpted wood and wood products, what comes to mind?
A beautifully turned bowl? A carved figure with wonderful grains helping bring it to life? A chair, lovingly assembled and sanded to a smooth finish?
What about a spoon with a spiked handle, a chair with a wheel for one leg and a giant decanter with a noodle-limp spout?
“House of Gelkandar,” by American artist Binh Pho and British artist Joey Richardson, symbolizes Pho’s escape from Vietnam.
“Soul Seat,” by American artist William Leete.
Those are just a few of the works in the exhibit "Challenge VII: DysFUNctional," a traveling exhibit that opens today and will be on display through Nov. 6 at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto. The exhibit was assembled by the Wood Turning Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that increases visibility for wood works turned on a lathe.
"DysFUNctional" is just the latest in the "Challenge" series, which has brought the Wood Turning Center international attention since its founding nearly 25 years ago, according to Albert LeCoff, co-founder and executive director of the Center.
"The 'Challenge' series is a really well-known international series of exhibitions that the Wood Turning Center has staged since 1987," LeCoff said. "What makes it very important is it usually shows the kind of work being done in the wood turning field - wood turners in the field have expanded to go past just wood turning."
If you go
What: "Challenge VII: DysFUNctional,"
organized by the Wood Turning Center
When: today through Nov. 4
Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto
Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday
More information: Call 472-3920 or visit www.sama-art.org
"DysFUNctional" features wood works from around the world - but not what one would expect.
The "challenge" set forth to the artists was to take an everyday object and make it out of wood. The catch? The object was to be slightly defective - dysfunctional.
"We took the theme of 'dysfunctional,' and we put out a call to international artists to address that theme," LeCoff said.
"What resulted wasn't just the three-dimensional turned objects, but also multimedia exhibits that included wood. That's the big difference of this show and what makes it so exciting."
What came from the artists - 30 of them, from the U.S., Australia, Canada, England, France and Italy - were 33 works which "persuasive in content, form, surface and movement, and evoke humor, curiosity and suspicion," according to SAMA's press release on the exhibition.
"It's a lot of things that you've never seen before," said SAMA Curator for Fine Arts Scott Dimond. "There's some strange-looking things that are thought-provoking. It's certainly not something that I've seen before.
"It's kind of wild stuff - wild in a good way."
One of the "wilder" works, according to LeCoff, is British artist Robin Wood's multimedia display "Cor Blimey" (2007-2008). LeCoff said Wood works with a very old style of wood turning made on what is called a pole lathe. "Cor Blimey" features a video of Wood working on this ancient machine.
"In the process of turning a bowl (on a pole lathe), the center core breaks away from the bowl itself," he said. "Historically speaking, archaeologists would find these cores and they didn't know what they were.
"(In the work) there's a large pile of cores on the ground - they look like they're spilling from the film."
LeCoff also pointed out another video installation, a video called "Chronicle of Consumption (i-iii)" (2007) by American artist Yoav Liberman, an art professor at Harvard University.
"He makes his objects (out of) found furniture - in the trash," LeCoff explained. "There was a chest of drawers that he found in the trash. It was too big to take home to his studio, so he decided to document what would happen to this chest of drawers."
LeCoff said the exhibit also features more routine works, "things of which you would normally think of with wood turning." But the "DysFUNctional" theme persists there, as well.
One work that stands out because of its unique look is "Soul Seat" (2007) by U.S. artist William Leete.
"Soul Seat" is a broken down, chipped chair that has no seat. In the center is a perfect, golden chair suspended by thread.
"'Soul Seat' is supposed to represent a person," LeCoff explained. "The physical body breaks down over time, but the soul remains intact."
American artist Binh Pho has two works on display in "DysFUNctional." One - "House of Gelkandar" - is a collaborative work with British artist Joey Richardson, but it is a reflection of Pho's life.
"Binh is Vietnamese and he escaped Vietnam," LeCoff said. "There is a legend in Vietnam that if you are surrounded by butterflies, it's good luck.
"When he was escaping Vietnam, they went through a swarm of butterflies and he knew he would be OK."
"House of Gelkandar" features many ornate butterflies carved out of wood, bursting from a caged sculpture.
Though "Challenge VII: DysFUNctional" seems to be a high-concept type of exhibit, Dimond believes the whimsical nature of the works will shine through.
"I think it's accessible to anyone," he said. "When you see the PR, it has the feel of a high art kind of thing, but the objects themselves are fun. I hope it appeals to (everyone)."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.