The people’s exhibit

Artist and viewer—cogs in the art machine

“Replication 000120,” by Sea Monster.

“Replication 000120,” by Sea Monster.

Photo courtesy of Chico Art Center

Replication Machine, closing reception Friday, March 31, 5-7 p.m., at Chico Art Center.
Chico Art Center
450 Orange St.

Creating visual art is usually, and necessarily, a very private affair. So, too, is viewing it, with quiet galleries and museums often being places where consuming art is a solitary endeavor. But the exceptions to that generalization, and to most other “rules” governing human interaction, can provide substantive food for thought about the urge to make and appreciate art as a playful and communal expression of the creative impulse. Replication Machine, the current interactive art exhibition at Chico Art Center, is a prime example of that exception.

As I entered CAC’s main gallery during a recent visit, I encountered hundreds of colorful toy-like artworks arranged on multileveled platforms around the room. A docent greeted me and offered to replicate a pair of brown leather dress gloves I’d brought for that purpose. After filling out an accompanying form, I dropped the gloves into the “Replication Machine” and was told that in no more than 20 minutes an original piece of art would be delivered and then added to the exhibit and the original returned to me. Additionally, a Polaroid photo would be taken of both and, along with the submission form, added to a collection pinned to the gallery walls. At exhibition’s end, owners of the originals are invited to take their new art home as well.

As I waited, I spoke with CAC’s gallery director, Cameron Kelly, who walked me through the process. We sat down on the deck adjoining the gallery with the Great Northern Coffee shop and she filled me in on the background of what inspired the exhibit. The goal is to attract new viewers and members to the art center via a playful, socially and creatively interactive event. At the time of my object’s replication (the 365th, on March 23), the project had averaged roughly 18 replications per day by its rotating staff of 35 “replication specialists,” a stable of local artists. That’s a lot of art.

When I mentioned that the process reminded me a bit of Rene Magritte’s iconic surrealist painting “The Treachery of Images,” which is a realistic depiction of a smoker’s pipe labeled “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”), Kelly explained that the Replication Machine is a descendant of the surrealist and Dada schools of art that originated in the politically volatile and turbulent era following World War I. Much as today, nationalistic fascism was on the rise and artists were motivated or inspired to delve both playfully and gravely into the realms of the unconscious and irrational in search of the means with which to illuminate our common bonds as humans.

The Replication Machine was designed by local artist, teacher and typographer Max Infeld, and was originally employed in 2007 for a similar interactive exhibit at Chico State. For its return a decade later, the exhibit leans toward the playfully surreal with the majority of the results exuding childlike simplicity and a sense of humor.

A piece serial-numbered “000296,” by replication specialist “Cameron,” is a pillow adorned with a girl’s simple black Mary Jane shoe. The documentation shows a photo of the original shoe, a photo of its sparkly replicated likeness painted on the blue-and-white-striped pillow, and a photo of the donor holding both above the handwritten message: “One night, on a pillow, dreams came as the wind blew and the stars shot through the sky. In the next days, all the world sparkled.”

It’s a fun, whimsical display, with replicated objects ranging from glasses to toy dinosaurs to fishbowl gardens to Día de los Muertos skeleton figures and pipe-cleaner dolls. And the documentation photos add a spark of gleeful strangeness, bringing the community into the process of collaborative re-creation.

I decided to wait and be surprised by how my replication turned out. I’ll return and retrieve it during the closing reception, Friday, March 31.