The National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis is dedicated to perpetuating the art and craft of metalwork through various events, programs and exhibitions. Finely crafted art and ideas make Noah Kirby and Alison Ouelette-Kirby’s Un Chien Regarde Bien L’Eveque, A Dog Looks at a Bishop, stand out among the Metal Museum’s continuous record of great exhibitions. For these artists, the combination of traditional metal casting and fabrication techniques creates an addition layer in a complex dialogue between tradition, concept and personal narrative.
In the main room of the gallery is the installation Un Chien Regarde Bien L’Eveque, A Dog Looks at a Bishop. Here a realistic dog, frozen in cast iron, stares wondrously at a giant convex disk that dominates the room. The dog, a known loyal companion, assumes the role of inquisitor while the master is reduced to a simple abstraction or idea regarding basic human nature. With one side white, reflective metal and the other black, the literal dualism creates a point of further investigation for the remaining sculptures.
In Two if by Sea a giant and ominous cast shadow of a shark moves across the wall, the action produced by the viewer’s interaction with a smaller shark attached to a hand crank. This involvement and imagery becomes symbolic of the situations made of one’s own accord or decisions. Dramatic theatricality of movement and concept can be found in Not Our Monkeys, Not Our Circus with two cast bronze monkeys spinning atop manual eggbeaters, activated by only by the viewer, becoming his or her problem.
Similar concepts complete the installation Middle of the Murder, located alone in a second room. The viewer is placed center stage while engaging the movement of cast aluminum crows and shadows projected onto the wall, bringing to life the murder or the technical term for a group of crows. The cast shadows add to the dramatic interpretation, placing the scene somewhere between a Hitchcock film and a mobile found in many a child’s bedroom. The loss of innocence with a deeper understanding of the world is found in the paradox of dualism.
Traditions become apparent again with use of classic idioms from different times and cultures. A combination of Bachelard’s poetics and the Grimms’ philosophy support the concepts involving constructed space and memories, especially with the artists’ consideration of the space in what was once a residential building. The manually powered sculptures add to the personal nature of the works by forcing the viewer to activate and complete a subjective and situational narrative involved at each point in the gallery. Ambiguity and open space increases the tension and intimacy by factoring in the vast unknown, making the viewer aware of his or her own time and place within humanity.
Alison and Noah live in St Louis and are Co-Directors of Six Mile Sculpture Works, a non-profit institution based in Granite City, Illinois, just outside of St Louis that is dedicated to promoting the collaborative efforts between traditional industry and art processes. Alison received her MFA from the University of Tennessee and is Full Professor and Area Head at Saint Charles Community College in St. Charles, Missouri. Noah received his MFA from Washington University where he is Adjunct Professor in addition to teaching at Fontbonne University in St. Louis.
By Jake Weigel