Trippy, Hippy Art Takes Over the U

Contemplate for a moment your mental landscape. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? I know, I know, sounds very New Age-y. But when you think about how many thousands of thoughts coarse through your head every day, and the nature of all those different thoughts, coming up with their visual equivalent is pretty cool.

That’s the concept behind the exhibit opening Tuesday, May 22, at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota. In Landscape of the Mind, 18 artists (eight of them local) explore the shape, texture, and topography of both the physical and mental landscape that surrounds us daily, as well as the relationship between the two separate-yet-intertwined worlds.

The focal point of the exhibit comes from Berlin-based artist Ulrike Mohr. It’s called “Minneapolis Black,” and it’s a combination of science experiment, introspective irony, mind games, and seriously deep symbolism. The premise seems simple: Take an elm tree that was doomed for the wood chipper and turn it into art. Not your traditional wood-working art, though: charcoal. That’s right; Mohr transformed an entire tree into pure carbon.

Charcoal sculpture is Mohr’s thing. What most artists use to sketch, she uses to sculpt. How? That’s where science comes into play. Mohr takes wooden objects (in this case, the branches, bark, and trunk of the elm tree) and puts them into metal containers of varying sizes. The containers are then fired in a kiln at precisely calibrated temperatures in order to craft the exact shade of black desired by Mohr.

Since the wood isn’t being scorched, the unique traits of the wood (the equivalent of finger prints and birth marks, if you will) are preserved in shrunken form, giving the wood an ethereal feel. In “Minneapolis Black,” the elm tree’s blackened branches hang from invisible strings, creating a chaotic-yet-structured scene that’s constantly morphing as you move about it—not unlike one’s train of thoughts.

The other artists’ work—like Kate Casanova’s “Mushroom Chair”—is equally trippy and thought provoking. Together, the exhibit is an exercise in creativity and wonder—an exploration of landscape, whatever that term means to you.

Landscape of the Mind
May 22-June 30
Katherine E. Nash Gallery, 405 21st Ave. S., Mpls.