Artist Todd Pavlisko has spent the last two weeks installing the very first exhibit to be featured in the brand new University Hall Gallery. Now’s the Time, which gets its name from one of jazz great Charlie Parker's compositions, opens Thursday, September 8 at 5 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 17. The gallery is located on the first floor of University Hall.
UMass Boston Today talked to Pavlisko about his art, inspiration, and ongoing collaboration with Professor Robert Carter, chair of UMass Boston’s Chemistry Department.
Q: Tell us about Charlie Parker and the Play-Doh wall that surrounds his portrait.
A: Like any of my art, it often comes with a cast of characters and I’ve been listening to a lot of Charlie Parker in my studio as I’m making work, so he naturally became something that I wanted to work with, in tandem with the other objects that I was working with. But because he’s such a massive force of music and massive force in art and is an inspiration to art and artists. I started thinking about what it meant to him to be a malleability of the mind, thus involving looking at this wall of Play-Doh. There’s nothing more malleable than Play-Doh. So I wanted to put him in a field of that to underscore the content of the exhibition.
Q: Would you say this is the focal point of the exhibit or is it just one of the many pieces?
A: It’s obviously the backdrop to the larger aspect of the installation, but there are so many intricacies to the exhibition, namely the centerpiece hanging in the gallery, which is a self-portrait birdcage. That piece is in collaboration with Professor Robert Carter, chair of UMass Boston’s Chemistry Department, who is also an artist, and another character in the exhibition. So it’s a tough question to answer. I would say that all of the works are equal – they all coalesce.
Q: What came first – the idea that you were going to do something specific for the University Hall Gallery space or the idea of Charlie Parker as the basis of an exhibition?
A: I always appreciate site-specific exhibitions and tend to go in that direction regardless of making work in my studio. I really appreciate making work on scene. It allows me to change work, remove work, add work, and really use the space as a work of art in itself. So when the University of Massachusetts Boston asked me to do an exhibition, it came from a woman named Carol Scollans, who is wonderful – incredibly smart art historian. She was looking to do something and I was absolutely elated to work with her because I knew that she already knew how I liked to make work.
Q: With your continued collaboration with Robert Carter, you’re once again infusing art with science. Can you talk about why it’s important to you to mix disciplines?
A: Robert Carter came into my life and into my art from a long history of infusing art and science. The more I started to think about science and art, I really wanted to use those properties in my work. It all started from a cold call, just calling him, saying, “I’m an artist and I want to do these certain things.” He was absolutely on-board – incredible intellect – who didn’t say no and was willing to go through the difficult work to actually arrive at the act of making art, and ultimately making art together.
Q: You’re the first artist to be featured in the University Hall Gallery. What are you hoping that visitors will take away from this work, that they might see on the way to class?
A: Art is important for any genre of any student in an academic setting. For students to be able to come in and experience contemporary art is incredibly important. What they take away from it, I hope, is a unique experience, an introduction to contemporary art if they have yet to make their way to a contemporary art museum or a gallery. But what I want them to take away from it is the understanding that when they’re looking at this exhibition, that it was done with a group of people, that it commanded the understanding and collaboration of people outside of the artist discipline. Because if people walk into an exhibition, it’s important that they can see themselves in the art as well, and possibly a future collaborator with me or with anybody is the idea that you might not know what art is, but you have a way into it and you have a mode of thinking that could be really special – very unique to contemporary art.