Williamstown

Michael Singer

Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)

Things that are visible but just beyond reach inevitably become more desirable and mysterious. Michael Singer’s recent installation depended on a dynamic between inside and outside in which actual access to the interior of the work was forbidden, though small apertures framed various views of the space it enclosed.

Raised on a low platform, and constructed of heavy wood planks, Ritual Series 1990, 1988–1990, initially suggested a forbidding fortress. Further exploration, however, disclosed open doorways in three sides and a narrow horizontal slot in the front of the sculpture that permitted partial views of the interior.

Depending on the sequence in which the forms were read, an interior assembly of interlocking shapes and various materials suggested a ritual passage of either development or dissolution. On the interior wall without a door, a slender shelf functioned as an open matrix on which materials were carefully displayed like specimens. Two sections raised modestly above the platform consisted of jigsaw puzzle pieces of rough and polished stone, granite, copper, and bronze. Additional elements were suspended from a three-dimensional framework of copper and stone.

This highly organized complex alternately suggested a progression toward enhanced order and a sophisticated ritual that slowly, deliberately transposes the order into a more dispersed condition. The painstaking arrangement of artifacts and objects signified a particular moment in an undetermined ritual activity. The physical and spiritual concentration of rituals refreshes perception of the quotidian patterns that characterize everyday experience. Without being specific about the purposes of the collected evidence, Singer’s installation made an impressive case for ritual’s contemporary viability.

In a long, horizontal collage entitled Cloud Hands Ritual Series 9/17/88, 1988, the pieces of cut paper were drawn on with chalk and charcoal, and the thickly layered scraps created an overall tactility reminiscent of tree bark. Along an implied horizon, pieces of the constructed drawing appeared to alternately gather in dense clusters or disperse irregularly like ephemeral cloud formations.

Singer is currently collaborating with Dallas artist Linnea Glatt, as well as with architects and engineers, to design an enormous recycling center in Phoenix. In addition to working on procedural and formal requirements for the facility, he is engaged in developing a program for the site to provide incentives for public participation and community education. Singer’s work has always reflected a sensitivity to the environment––to the ways that life can be lived in cooperation with nature. His vision has guided a practice that sees nature and culture not in some predictable dialectic, but as a constantly negotiable, problematic interplay of determination and desire. His interpretation of site accepts both the given “natural” realities and the potential of human intervention. Without being nostalgic or didactic, Singer’s work continues to address issues that concern our place in the world and our potential to improve or imperil what we inherit.

Patricia C. Phillips