Pat Collentine and Susan Larsen explore their Desires
“Desire is an ambiguous gift because it is an unfinished reality. Desire cannot guarantee its satisfaction.”
—Charles Winquist, Chico State religious studies professor, thinker and writer, who died April 4, 2002.
I was moved to stand at length—gently yet insistently mesmerized—before “Ambiguous Gift,” a piece in Patrick Collentine and Susan Larsen’s current exhibit, Desire, installed in one of the recessed areas on Trinity Hall’s north wall. It was partly the sparseness of the exhibit that attracted me; partly the motion-activated tiny red, tweeting bird atop its urn-like perch; partly the sensuously earthy smell of the bed of slowly decaying black walnuts that make up the floor of the exhibit. Mostly, it was Charles Winquist’s quote about the nature of desire, lettered boldly in white on a black background.
We often find our way into a particular artist’s work through a single piece that opens its door for us initially. From that entry point, we trust that other pieces in a particular exhibit come from a similar place that may have something to tell us as well, and we look for meaning because we believe that it will likely be there.
In the case of “Ambiguous Gift,” the fact that a quote about the general nature of something spoke to me on such a personal level impressed me as being, well, exactly the kind of thing one hopes art will do—if it is truly doing the good work of being art.
In another recessed space next to the one in which “Ambiguous Gift” presently resides is “Emergent,” also a creative assemblage featuring a quote from Winquist, whom Collentine and Larsen refer to fondly in their artist statement as “outside the box.” (As former Chico State students, Collentine and Larsen attended some of Winquist’s classes, where they happily “swam in the language and concepts of his lectures.")
Larsen, who admits to having “somewhat of a textile background,” was inspired to co-create “Emergent"—consisting of three red-lit duct-tape-bound pillows, labeled “never,” “stop” and “exploring,” representing a fly, a spider and an ant—after reading an ad for outdoors company The North Face advising one to “never stop exploring.”
“The fly, spider and ant … are always exploring,” said Collentine. “It’s a playful piece. Ants go everywhere, then they bring back a message to other ants who then go out to where those first ants went.”
Winquist’s thought-provoking contribution to “Emergent” speaks of “the discovery that all visual images have been filtered through a red filter.”
Color plays a subtle but obvious role in all of the well-known Chico artists’ work—sometimes specifically the color red, as in the red neon floor sculpture that underlights a large photograph taken at the top of Mount Lassen titled “Fissure.” And sometimes all of the colors of the rainbow are present, as with their signature “Kolorbar” pieces, of which “Fissure” is also a part.
One of the more topical “Kolorbar” photographs—in which Collentine and Larsen always include a nearly 6-foot-tall photographer’s color bar ("I’m always holding [the color bar], Pat’s always photographing,” the 5-foot-2 Larsen chuckled)—is “Playa Double Rainbow,” taken at this year’s Burning Man. The piece features a full double rainbow over the sandy terrain of Burning Man whimsically set off by Larsen holding up their now nearly infamous giant color bar.
As of late, Collentine and Larsen have been exploring the new territory of making art with the assistance of electronic media. One piece, “Real Time,” is a computer-directed, router-cut wood sculpture of an inverted Bell curve serving as “a model of the universe, with the Big Bang on top, and today at the bottom,” as Larsen, who joked about her dabbling in “parascience,” put it.
The large, floor-standing piece made from sustainable bamboo plywood also pleasantly evokes thoughts of a cathedral or the Sydney Opera House with its graceful curves and arches.
A focus on sustainability runs through the Desire exhibit, from “Real Time’s” bamboo ("fastest-growing plant—one meter in a day,” Collentine pointed out) to the photos from this year’s “green"-themed Burning Man to the “leftover metal pieces” from a previous project incorporated into “Moon Discs and Neutrinos.”
“But as artists, our more pervasive theme is language,” Collentine said. “We were inspired to stretch our parameters by going outside of our usual media, by reading philosophy, by Charles Winquist’s writing.”