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Posted at 3:53 PM ET, 06/27/2008

Artistic Movement

By Stephanie Merry

Emily Eifler's "Swell/Say" looks looks like fun but has a deeper meaning. (Photo courtesy of VSA Arts)

There was a lot of commotion at the opening of Derivative Composition, an exhibition that opened last night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Gallery. And most of that movement happened to be coming from the art itself.

Lamp shades twirled atop their bases while what looked like a giant muppet moved slowly around the room reaching out to people. The sound of discordant piano keys played as a man began doing push-ups while reciting the alphabet.

The show, put on by VSA Arts, spotlights artists with disabilities, and the theme for this exhibition is artistic synergy -- works inspired by theater, music and dance. For Mark Wittig, the man chanting his ABCs, his performance told the story of growing up with dyslexia. After tearing pages out of a dictionary, Wittig performed the push-ups with his hands and feet atop small wooden school chairs and with each dip, his face sank closer to the dismantled dictionary.

The spinning lampshades were zoetropes, a relative of early cinema. A progression of images inside the shade creates movement so that when viewers peer in, they see a horse bucking, an elephant plodding along or a hand making a small flicking gesture. These zoetropes, by Ricky Subritzky and Fiona MacDonald, turn out to be relatively small compared to their massive installation, "Lobby." Hidden through a curtain in the back of the gallery are ceiling panels of birds and the repeating pattern of a Liberty Tree, which was a meeting point for American revolution activity. Pinkish curtains with silhouettes of people's faces surround the ceiling panels giving the viewer the distinct feeling of being watched.

The most mesmerizing piece was the person walking around covered in multicolored fabric. Emily Eifler showcased this, entitled "Skin," along with the similarly whimsical "Swell/Say," which was a 13-foot crocheted work that looked like a spiky caterpillar. While both immediately brought a smile to my face, I found out there is a sadder meaning to them. The varied landscape of "Swell/Say" is meant to recall tumors, while "Skin" is Eifler's attempt to convey the divide between the person inside the suit and the spectator, much like a person with a disability experiences a different kind of boundary between themselves and the outside world.

Those who visit the show after the opening night will be able to see Wittig's installation of school chairs and dictionaries along with "Skin," though it will be on a mannequin. Other can't-miss pieces include an interesting look at motion from Sophie Kahn and an eerily doll-like painting of a "Child Standing on a Dresser" by Katie Miller. If you catch this show, write in the comments and let me know which artists you liked the best.

By Stephanie Merry  | June 27, 2008; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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