By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — After the U.S. auto industry took a serious financial hit in 2008, artist Matthew Boonstra began developing sculptures reflecting human dependency on machines.
Boonstra’s sculptures express a dichotomy of sympathy for the human pain involved, concern about past business models and the negative impact internal combustion transportation has on the environment.
“They stem from living in the Detroit area of southeast Michigan,” he said about his sculptures. “There’s over 200 years of automotive industry experience among my extended family.”
Boonstra’s figurative and object-based sculptures made during the last three years will be on display at MAINSITE Contemporary Art, 122 E. Main St., June 14 to July 13.
The public is invited to an opening reception 6-10 p.m. today in conjunction with June’s 2nd Friday Circuit of Art. A closing reception is scheduled for 6-10 p.m. July 12.
Since this body of work was somewhat autobiographical for Boonstra, he got out of the art studio to do some external research in vehicle factories. Boonstra interviewed several generations of industrial workers, and sculpture ideas quickly began to form. The works are not blatant political statements.
“They became inquiries about where we go and how we think about these things,” Boonstra said. “The title of the show ‘Interruptions’ goes to these sculptures being reflective points about our socio-economic circumstances and how we participate in that.”
One sculpture, titled “Have You Tried Walking?” (2011), is a fuel filler neck mounted atop a set of plaster cast human legs. The message couldn’t be clearer: You have become your car.
The artist recognizes the importance of petroleum production to his host state in terms of employment and that it’s presently a key component of the world economy.
“Finding a balance between being good stewards of the environment and seeking sustainability are the points of reflection that I hope to offer in my work,” he said.
Much of Boonstra’s sculptural work is with steel. He has developed an intimate relationship with the substance during welding and fastening manipulations. Boonstra has successfully externalized his artistic feelings in much the same deft way that his relatives have turned materials into automobiles over the years. His assemblage titled “Human, Human, Human” (2011) is an oversized steel form in the shape of a car key. A plaster human torso and head emerge from the shank of the key and a foot with ankle is linked to the key’s ring. The viewer has morphed into the device that controls the vehicle that many of us are totally dependent on for all our transportation needs.
“One side of the MAINSITE show will be my largest work yet,” Boonstra said. “It’s an installation piece that works with the architecture of the building.”
Miniature concrete houses in the middle of the gallery will be attached by string to positions on the walls that follow the up and down points of the Dow Jones industrial average for the last century in three dimensional graph form. It’s Boonstra’s take on the housing market bubble that burst in 2008.
“I’m excited to increase the scale of my work that MAINSITE is giving me the opportunity to do as well as staying with my conceptual interests,” he said.
Boonstra graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Michigan State University in 2009 and has been a visiting assistant professor of art at Oklahoma State University since 2010. This is his first solo exhibition in Oklahoma. Last year he was awarded the prestigious Oklahoma Visual Arts Fellowship by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition.
Other works on display concurrently include Norman Arts Council Individual Artist Award winner and printmaker Michael Joy Wilson, exhibited in The Library gallery.
The Water Closet Gallery will house Discernible Discourse, a micro-exhibit curated by Krystle Brewer, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University. It features the work of Amanda Christine, Sarah Morgan, John Steen, Ashley Sword-Buster and Liz Wilson. All the artists’ pieces showcase a use of language — be it poetry, lyrics, quotes or scripture — in combination with visual art.