People always say that “art is in the eye of the beholder.” But what if, instead, it could be in the palm of your hand?
With the University Galleries’ latest exhibition, it truly can be. Featured at the George Segal Gallery until April 21 as the sole exhibition, “Dancing on Axes and Spears” is the latest in a series of installations by Filipino artist Caroline Garcia. A multimedia experience, the exhibition combines physical works of 2D and 3D art, virtual reality and multiple forms of choreographed dance.
When the viewer first enters this vast world of small pieces, they are quickly greeted with a piece titled “Trigger Finger.” Using repurposed materials from Garcia’s own photographs back in 2016, Trigger Finger consists of three robotic metal ‘fingernails’, styled in the traditional Filipino style of ‘pangalay’ nails. The fingers are equipped with pan and tilt functions that seem choppy at first, but this glitch is meant to represent the pitfalls that come when translating such customs from one culture to another.
Following up “Trigger Finger” is a series of four photographs titled “The Good Neighbor.” All four photos feature the artist performing traditional dance moves, caught in still imagery. The pictures have a calming yet assertive presence, inspiring viewers to think critically about the movement behind the image.
The exhibit’s centerpiece is an interactive martial arts gym titled “I Woke Up and Chose Violence,” decked out with fake swords and other weaponry. Patrons pick a weapon off of the wall and try their hand at fighting a couple of sculptures made of rubber tires. Through this part of the exhibition, visitors become a part of the exhibit themselves.
“[My piece is] intended to create a more immersive engagement with the work,” Garcia said.
Guests are actually encouraged to touch and move with the art. This allows them to have a more unique and physical connection to the art than with most exhibits.
Though the exhibition is open to any and all patrons, Garcia is particularly excited at the opportunity to present it to the students here at Montclair State University and share the piece’s themes of identity and of “alterity,” or the feeling of otherness.
“Alterity is something that can be embraced,” Garcia said. “If this gives [students] some sort of language, whether that be visual, verbal or emotional, to be able to express or accept their position in the world, then I definitely hope it is a helpful tool.”
Garcia is a multifaceted artist, having grown up involved in dance classes and video production before studying for her bachelor’s degree in photography. In 2016, Garcia began her journey into the world of martial arts as well, she even included her own belt certifications on the walls of the exhibit. Garcia’s love and skill level in several mediums led to her unique blends of styles, which is shown prominently in “Dancing on Axes and Spears.”
“Whatever form I see or envision to best communicate the work, I will learn a new skill in order to do so,” Garcia said.
This diligence in the arts and her own crafts caught the eye of the gallery’s engagement and outreach coordinator Alyssa Leslie Villasenor.
“We’re not here to sell art [and] we’re not here to make profits,” Villasenor said. “We’re here to make a space for everyone where they feel comfortable and seen.”
The University Galleries held a forum on Feb. 20, featuring Garcia and art curator Jesse Bandler Firestone. Students and other members of the campus community were invited to attend, learning various insights behind Firestone and Garcia’s involvement in the exhibit.
“It was about seeing this connective thread, there’s this idea of resilience [and] grief,” Firestone said.
So far, the exhibit has proven to be a win for many students.
Justin Roman, a senior visual arts major at Montclair State, enjoyed the interactive nature of the martial arts gym.
“Normally we don’t just touch artworks [at these exhibits], but now you’re allowed to touch these certain weapons,” Roman said.
Christian Loureiro, also a senior visual arts major, was particularly impressed by the exhibit’s messages and themes.
“Exploring identity and learning new things is really helpful for a person to know, so that way they can understand what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes,” Loureiro said.
Garcia’s work, “Dancing on Axes and Spears” will be open for viewing at the University Galleries until April 21.