current exhibition

Review Archive

Symbols of the Everyday. The Gallery Project on Fourth Street Sheds New Light on Common Sights

By Michael Doyle

Michigan Daily, November 26, 2007


The current exhibit at the Gallery Project on Fourth Street, "Signs, Symbols, Gestures," is based on something inextricably linked to our lives. The artwork in the exhibit, running through Dec. 2, addresses the act of finding meanings in symbols, often arbitrary ones, which are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Such symbols can be as banal as traffic signs or as perplexing as the emotions evoked by a McDonald's "M" penetrating the skyline.


The works deconstruct the notion of a symbol, but don't be put off if you're not familiar with the inter-workings of semiotic theory or the nuances of the post-structuralist paradigm. Most of the art here is accessible without knowledge of the theory behind it.


Material provided by the museum succinctly describes the scope of the works, saying they range "from the investigation of brand identity systems and scientific symbols to the secret language encoded in signs; from evocative markings of the human hand to the subtle gestures of body language."


The exhibit brings together artists ranging from University art students and professors to more widely known professional artists. Each artist brings to our attention different aspects - sometimes philosophical, other times pragmatic - of the symbols and concepts we experience each day. The variety of the artists on display corresponds to the wide breadth of media employed, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations and mixed media.


Art & Design Prof. Marianetta Porter is the curator of Signs, Symbols, Gestures as well as a contributing artist. "No Time to Die" is a wooden ironing board set vertically against the wall with an ancient African symbol meaning "endurance" at its head. The rest of its surface is covered with countless hash marks that seem to allude to a castaway counting the days he's been stranded on a desert island. The combination of the tattered board, the African symbol and the hash marks heighten the sense that these symbols, not individually decipherable, hint at a narrative of eternal patience.


Artist Matt Siber focuses on the logos and advertisements we take for granted. "McDonald's" is a digital composition of a golden, arching "M" seemingly floating in the middle of a light blue sky. The dramatic upward perspective with the symbol for America's favorite fast-food restaurant is intimidating, to say the least. The contrast of the McDonald's symbol with the innocent blue sky evokes an eerie sense of an inhuman corporation perpetually hovering over an anonymous public.


In reality, what's depicted is just the symbol for the letter "M," but within the context of the piece, the symbol connotes the state of unnatural autonomy that corporate America has achieved.


"Keeping the Word,” a wonderful, large sculpture by Wendell Heers, resembles a three dimensional mandala, with numbers and letters swirling around the front. Heidi Kumano presents several video installations that repeat gestural actions in short loops, inviting the viewer to find multiple interpretations.


The artists on display bring to our attention the codes we subconsciously use to draw meanings out of arbitrary symbols. The exhibit suggests there's something underpinning these technically meaningless symbols. The fact that most people could easily find meaning in the symbols used here suggests the possibility that we all draw, unconsciously, from a pool of shared information - one shaped by the ideologies (and corporations) of our society.