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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

University Galleries is not under construction — the scaffolds are the art

Two people smile at the camera standing in front of black, shoulder-height scaffolding rested on top of drop cloths. Plain, stark white walls surround them.
Lauren Warnecke
Avantika Bawa, left, and Troy Sherman stand in front of "simplenothingsimplesomething," in progress at University Galleries. The show opens Jan. 17 and ends March 3.

Avantika Bawa is obsessed with scaffolds.

“I’m very interested in architecture, but I don’t really know the language,” said Bawa, a multimedia artist whose work is showcased from Jan. 17-March 3 at University Galleries in Uptown Normal.

“If you show me a blueprint, I could maybe read 30% percent of it, truth be told,” she said. “I like being the voyeur, the playful voyeur who looks at these schematics and structures and just appreciates them for what they are. But at some points, I need to find out structurally what’s going on.”

Bawa splits her time between Portland, Oregon and New Delhi. She’s built scaffolds in blank, white galleries like the rooms of University Galleries. But they’ve also appeared in an Oregonian pasture and on a salt flat in India.

Trained as a painter, Bawa thinks less about the structural integrity of these scaffolds than the visual topography they create in a space. Each scaffold — its colors, dimensions and organization — is custom built as a response to Bawa’s current location.

So, in this case, Uptown Normal and the Illinois State University are fodder for her scaffolds.

“I came in late last night and I was walking around town,” she said. “This campus is very simple. The layout is very simple and basic — not that that’s a bad thing. So, I wanted to reflect a little bit of that construction and the urban planning outside, but also shake it up a little bit.”

These scaffolds are meant to be seen from under, around and between — but not on.

“Scaffolds are insurance nightmares, to put it lightly,” said curator Troy Sherman, who picked Bawa for the first show of his tenure at University Galleries. “Figuring out how to put scaffolds in an art gallery is a lot different than figuring out how to put paintings in one.”

In addition to Bawa’s scaffolds, large-scale drawings hang on the surrounding walls, grayscale, 2-D versions of her inspirational bars and bolts built into the middle of the gallery.

Bawa is heavily influenced by the mid-20th century minimalist movement, reducing artistic mediums to their very structure and form. That can be intimidating to some viewers, who often feel a need and desire to “get it.”

“I’m going to quote something really cheesy,” said Bawa, who watched “Top Gun” on the bus ride to Normal.

“’Don’t think, just use your instinct.’ There’s something very instinctual about wanting to enjoy and appreciate this. If you try and categorize it in a canon and history, or find deeper, more profound meaning, you’ll just be running around in circles.”

Sherman was drawn to Bawa’s work for its intellectual, historical and technical rigor. But he also said Bawa leans on the tools of minimalism in an approachable way.

“Once these scaffolds turn into the final installation,” he said, “the final point — the only thing you’re supposed to get out of them — is that looks pretty cool.”

“Simplenothingsimplesomething" runs Jan. 17-March 3 at University Galleries, 11 Uptown Circle. Admission is free. Information about artist talks and other supplemental events can be found at galleries.illinoisstate.edu.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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