Nestled in the shadow of the Green Street Orange Line Stop, I was fortunate enough to view Hollow Point: Nancy Baker Cahill, the most recent exhibition at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery. This exhibition has recalibrated what I thought could be possible in public art. Nancy Baker Cahill is an LA-based artist that believes that the body is an unknowable abstraction defined by struggle. This is manifested in dynamic, evocative mixed media pieces that demonstrate both strong technical skill as well as a strong aesthetic that unifies all the works. Upon entering the space, you are greeted by Manifesto No. 70, a charcoal human form. This piece is draped with a delicateness and attention to detail that rewards repeat viewing and close examination. A somber work, Manifesto No. 70 nods to one’s mortality and perhaps the end of our collective struggle.
After parsing those emotions, Hollow Point 12 presents a sea change in everything but technique. Monochrome, swirling, resolute; this is the tempest in its most frenetic sense. As if somehow making a black hole visible, I was transfixed following the reflecting paper inward and the deep charcoal lines that gave shape to multiple vortexes. On the adjacent wall was Virgil No. 44; this work captures the space with careful muscles bulging from listless forms that evoke the travels of Dante. Two lovers hopelessly entwined in intimacy become two spirits locked in conflict, wrestling to vanquish the other—either interpretation feeling true to the work. The duality at play was my favorite example of “the body as an unknowable abstraction inside of struggle” and became a sort of Rorschach test of the heart.
Hollow Point 14 was instantly and unequivocally my favorite of the displayed. Always one to appreciate strong composition and thoughtful use of negative space, I was instantly arrested by the energy and speed present in rendered indomitable masses. The bold strokes of charcoal evoked brutalist architecture and a world-ending meteor shower—it made me uneasy but kept drawing me in. The real perspective-bending experience came from the HTC Vive headset carefully placed on a table to the left. This tool allowed the viewer to experience the art in a boundless way that fully realized the artist’s sense of scale and the amount of detail that make up each abstraction. By donning the headset, the art-goer is offered the opportunity to enter the void, and with each click of the trigger, they are brought closer to the art. The trigger is also able to transport you inside the art, and even underneath the work. This new venue recontextualized the pieces that we had just viewed.
When transformed, Hollow Point 14 became a gigantic field with large jellyfish-like forms floating towards earth. What struck me as almost apocalyptic on canvas became at once both soothing and awe-inspiring, reminiscent of Northern Lights. The ability to translate volume, mass and density felt unmatched in this medium. I couldn’t help myself from reaching out and touching the virtual forms that now occupied the space. “Engaging curiosity” has always informed Nancy Baker Cahill’s work and has led the artist to pursue “increasingly immersive experiences” that can serve as the catalyst for new conversations around public art. After taking off the headset, I realized that I longed for every gallery to have this: the opportunity to see the works in massive scale; installations of past and present beautifully reproduced in a distraction-free void; exhibitions living timelessly in the digital world just waiting to be experienced and shared like your favorite weekday museum visit—no lines, no kids, no noise, just you and the art. In the age of the austere white wall that has served as the preeminent display medium for contemporary art, the addition of VR experiences now seems inevitable. By decoupling art from the institution and bringing the work into this truly neutral blank void, Nancy Baker Cahill is able to create a public art experience that truly breaks down walls and reminds us what is possible when art can have no limits.
Check it out – Friday, Saturday, Sunday 12-5pm @ Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green Street, JP, On view through Feb. 17th