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Mandel embraces artistic contradictions

October 25, 2019

Through the mechanized movement of light, projections and objects, artist and University of Massachusetts at Amherst Assistant Professor of Art Robin Mandel creates dynamic sculptures that explore the power of repetition. In a talk last Wednesday, “In Rotation: From Motion to Meaning,” Mandel explained how his videographic portrayals of contrasting objects can help viewers to better embrace opposing ideas.

“Think of it as an antidote to extremes,” said Mandel. “To understand the situation in which two opposing ideas are true at the same time, that one thing can be understood in two completely opposing ways, depending on where you stand. That is the kind of understanding that I want to encourage.”

Mandel’s work primarily consists of kinetic sculptures that are made of everyday objects, mechanization and light. As visible gears turn, a wine glass is filled by the phantom projection of wine while a wine bottle is uncorked by a projected hand. The opening of a larger door corresponds to the opening of a dramatically-lit 12-inch door. A two-dimensional silhouette of a bottle spins to create a three-dimensional, ghost-like bottle.

Pieces of Mandel’s work will be featured in the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s newest exhibit, “Temporality: The Process of Time.” Opening November 2, the exhibit will incorporate work from a variety of artists using different media that are connected by their exploration of the concept of time.

In his “Hold” series, Mandel also worked with the looping of sound. Projectors display faces of individuals holding a breath, musical note or scream for as long as they can. During that duration, the projected video spins while its frame remains stationary, thus holding the image still. The faces are held still or rotated in cycles according to the timing of their actions.

As light illuminates the installation in cycles, the sounds of the piece interact with the motion’s patterns.

“Sometimes the singing and the screaming would be happening in sort of a duet, sometimes … one would start and another one would end and they would happen in succession,” said Mandel. “And just because each of those three clips were different lengths, those combinations were constantly kind of shifting and changing.”

Mandel created a different piece called “Chorus” for his alma mater Swarthmore. In the piece, Swarthmore student vocalists were recorded singing one note and their rotating visages were projected onto the buildings surrounding the quad. Each night, a new face and note were added until the final night, when the student vocalists accompanied their projected faces and voices in person.

As a professor, Mandel is familiar with the variety of voices found on college campuses, whether they are projected onto a building or otherwise.

“Many voices made the music more complex, but also they are the college campus,” said Mandel. “Their song also echoed in a way that the process of intellectual discourse [is]  sometimes harmonious, sometimes discord, but always has diverse participants.”


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