So, a Mormon sculptor who was once a Hare Krishna devotee and this Sicilian poet who used to be a computer geek go into a bar—make that an art gallery—and they decide to put on a show. The first guy thinks it’s about Kali, Hindu goddess of death and rebirth; the other thinks it’s about environmentalism. That both of them are right is evident in a fun and thought-provoking exhibition opening Sept. 5.
That’s when the nonprofit Art Access Gallery presents After the Tree Had Fallen: Recent Works and Collaborations by Alex Caldiero and Frank McEntire. At the monthly Gallery Stroll on Sept. 19, you will be able to see a special language act by Caldiero at 7 p.m. and again at 8 p.m.
Caldiero is a poet and performance artist who spent nearly 18 years as a technical writer. He was the second writer hired by WordPerfect and remained there making manuals “up until version 5.0.” He believes “poetry is the ultimate technical writing,” and credits time spent in the computer world with improvement in his creative work in terms of “understanding what this writing thing is about.” Today, he teaches humanities at Utah Valley State College and has a very cool Website, wordshaker.com.
McEntire is a sculptor, assemblage artist and independent curator who was the art critic for The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake Magazine while working in the finance department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is now executive director of the Utah Arts Council.
McEntire is reserved; Caldiero brash and effusive. But these very different men have established, over 15 years, what Caldiero calls a brotherhood. “As different as we are, we are so alike that it’s scary,” he says.
These recent paintings, sculpture, and mixed-media works and collaborations started with a poem of Caldiero’s, beginning with the line “after the tree had fallen.” McEntire says, “We grew it from there.”
The two probe their concerns with the extinction and creation of species, languages and environments through their art.
“The exhibit is both a mourning and a celebration of the transformative forces at work in the wheel of creation and extinction,” Caldiero says. He and McEntire held lengthy discussions about how the creative process mimics the life cycle of the planet and all activity on it. “Just as whole ecological systems and biological species appear and disappear,” McEntire says, “so do languages in their written, verbal, and visual forms.”
Caldiero has witnessed languages disappearing. “In Zurich, there’s a society for endangered languages ... I myself am probably the last generation that speaks pure Sicilian. So I feel this thing of extinction very personally.” McEntire recalls a poem Caldiero wrote about the death of the last speaker of a language. “The language of an entire tribe went to the grave with him,” he says.
In Caldiero’s performance piece, the poet takes small objects related to that tribe and puts them in his mouth one at a time as he recites stanzas of his work. Halfway through, he has so much in his mouth you can’t distinguish what he’s talking about; then there’s more and he no longer can even speak, at which point he starts taking things out again and—very slowly—the vocabulary comes back. You begin to distinguish his words as the second half of the poem is presented.
For McEntire, that became a collaborative link, reminding him of a recent news story about the dispute over ownership of three ceremonial buffalo-hide shields. The valuable artifacts were ultimately returned to the Navajo Nation by the National Park Service because one tribal elder knew and could practice the ceremony in which the shields were used. “One person held the key,” says McEntire. “When that person is gone, the key to the secret knowledge is lost ... So, the Navajo have a second chance. Maybe this Navajo holy man can live long enough to train an apprentice.”
The pair worked together on several pieces in the show, visiting each other’s studios and “seeing what resonated,” says Caldiero. “Collaboration has to be as natural as anything else that is authentic in producing art,” he says. “You have almost an intuition about what possibilities arise.”
McEntire saw a possibility for integrating his and Caldiero’s work in an old Burroughs calculator. It has glass sides, so the machine’s inner workings are visible. McEntire made a pedestal for it and the paper calculator tape is now a scroll. The whole piece is a fine artist book titled: “Tzimtzum (pronounced “zem-zoom”) for Burroughs Machine.”
McEntire’s AlphaTrough is an old cattle water trough filled with wooden forms once used to cast metal letters. It will be placed against a gallery wall. Inside it, Caldiero will place a scroll that unrolls up the wall “in which the letter ‘I’ begins to rise and meets the letter ‘O’ and becomes this living thing flowing off into space,” he says.