Photos by Matty Flader / Photo Reporter
By Donna Nadeem, Contributor
As part of a year-long residency at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, artist Reinhard Reitzenstein is exploring ideas of the natural world and technology through sculpture and drawing in collaboration with the Hamilton community. While an established artist, Reitzenstein’s residency has been an opportunity to reintroduce himself and his artistic identity to the public sphere.
Reitzenstein graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1971. His work explores the relationship between nature, cultural science and technology while utilizing installation, sculptures, drawings, photography and sound as his medium of choice. Over the course of his career, Reitzenstein has been described as an environmental artist with focuses on land and ecology, and an allegorical minimalist after creating his own art movement combining allegory and minimalism.
Allegory refers to abstract ideas and principles in forms of storytelling, figures and events, while minimalism is a style that focuses on the simplest of forms and techniques. A seemingly contradictory combination of these two concepts allow Reitzenstein to create visual pieces that are meant to change and unsettle the viewers’ perceptions.
Entering the AGH exhibition, you’re greeted by a quote from the artist depicting what he understands his movement to be. “Allegorical minimalism: paradoxical synthesis of the material and natural world, challenging the perceptions of the spectator (as critic) while denying not only a fixed interpretation but the very possibility of interpretation itself.”
Reitzenstein began his residency with the intention of developing at least one or two projects and the capacity to focus on them for a duration of year. This allowed him to engage in a gradual creation process. The space itself was another dimension Reitzenstein had to take into consideration. High and vaulted ceilings along with windows bringing in natural lighting from every direction allowed Reitzenstein to push his sculptures and drawings further to produce larger work that force observation and interaction.
The exhibition features two communal projects that have created an opportunity for community members to contribute through various workshops and interactive tours.
The first piece, the Erable Project, is composed of an array of discs suspended in the middle of the room. The discs are individually cut sections of a tree and hung horizontally next to each other. Reitzenstein created some of the discs, while community members contributed to others, creating a diversity of unique colour choices and designs. Each piece is covered in an assortment of wet felt. The soft material requires constant repetitive motions to achieve a desired outcome.
“Some of the kids who were here working on the wet felting got really into it and it was incredible. There’s something about the tactility [of felting] that connects to people and allows them to focus and concentrate. It seems to have a therapeutic effect,” said Reitzenstein.
The second piece is a large communal tree drawing done with white gel pens on a black wall. After reflecting on the diversity of languages practiced in the Hamilton area, Reitzenstein decided to ask community participants to add to the drawing by writing the words ‘tree’ or ‘maple’ in their own languages.
The piece includes approximately 58 different languages and counting. As more and more words in different languages get added to the drawing, the tree visually reflects on the cultural diversity of the Hamilton community.
“I wanted to make it a community project where, again, we do workshops with community groups. I thought it would be great too because of the multicultural aspect of our region now, and to make sure everybody has a voice here,” said Reitzenstein.
The David Braley and Nancy Gordon Sculpture Atrium is also filled with Reitzenstein’s bronze sculptures and other art pieces from the museum’s permanent collections. Reitzenstein chose the pieces to coincide with his exploration of allegorical minimalism throughout his residency at the AGH.
In Residence: Reitzenstein is still a work-in-progress at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (123 King St. West). It will be exhibiting until March 29 and is free to all McMaster students with a valid student card.