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Julianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your exhibition at IMA

Visitors to the Indianapolis Museum of Art lean in for a closer observation of conceptual artist Julianne Swartz's "Loop" installation, which is one of 43 works on display as "How Deep Is Your" exhibition at the IMA free to the public.
Visitors to the Indianapolis Museum of Art lean in for a closer observation of conceptual artist Julianne Swartz's "Loop" installation, which is one of 43 works on display as "How Deep Is Your" exhibition at the IMA free to the public.
Photo credit C. M. Schmidlkofer

Opposites.

That’s what conceptual artist Julianne Swartz combines in her work to portray duality. Her latest body of work entitled "How Deep Is Your" is currently on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The exhibition is free to the public through June 15.

“I believe a successful work embraces opposites,” Swartz said of her creations. “I rely on humor and pathos to relieve and activate one another, or tenderness and irony.”

Fragility and strength, provocation and playfulness, seriousness and silliness, responsibility and futility, commonplace and astonishing are also combinations she enjoys incorporating in her work.

Her visuals might be considered minimalist, comprised of high and low tech materials which provide visual, tactile and audio attractions that seductively draw the viewer in for a closer observation.

The cornerstone of the exhibit is aptly named "How Deep Is Your" – consisting of plastic tubing, plexiglass, mirrors, a funnel, LED lights and a soundtrack piped through the light blue tube snaking throughout the museum. By placing the ear near an obvious opening in the tubing, or sticking one’s head in the large trumpet shaped ending, love songs by John Lennon or the Bee Gees may be heard. These sounds of the 1970’s – Lennon’s “Love” and the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” – were popular tunes during Swartz’s childhood. She found them the perfect combination to add to her theme of duality; one song representing universal connection and the other of personal desire.

The 43 installations at the IMA are colorful, entertaining and playful for all ages, tempting a closer look even from across the room.

Apparent chirping emanating from an 11-foot installation of colorful wires supporting small speakers attract visitors to move in closely to investigate "Loop," where a delicate collage of live recordings of human voices, nature and textural sounds allow observers to experience a variety of sensations.

Swartz said her goal with every work is to discover approaches to engage and heighten the viewer’s emotional, physical and perceptual sensitivities to encourage extra conscious and empathetic interface with the world.

“I always ask how may I create an atypical art experience, one that is unexpected, unfamiliar or catches viewers off guard,” she said.

Ultimately, the viewer will transcend the quiet pace of Swartz’s work, uncovering the emotional content that goes beyond the obvious ‘love’ and ‘fun’ into complex ideas of yearning, comfort, fragility, vulnerability and human connection, Rachael Arauz, a Boston-based independent curator in charge of the exhibition.

“I’ve seen people moved to tears by the quiet perseverance of her sculpture 'Obstacle,' or by the intensity of emotion contained in 'Open,'” she said.

Obstacle Mountain portrays a small, plastic bag appearing to float around a pile of stones, failing to overcome a chunk of concrete in its path, doomed to start over from the beginning again and again.

"Open" is a maple box sitting on the floor, which when opened, gently releases human voices saying “I love you” softly – at first – gradually becoming louder and louder until they are shouting.

“There is tremendous sincerity in Swartz’s work,” Arauz said. “And that’s a relatively unusual and riskier attitude in contemporary art, but it’s that sincerity that gives Swartz’s art such power on both a universal and personal level.”

The "How Deep Is Your" exhibition at the IMA is its third and final presentation.

“I was thrilled when the IMA became the final venue for the exhibition’s national tour,” she said. “Because they own such an important work by Swartz.”

The IMA made an early commitment in 2008 to support Swartz’s work when it commissioned her most significant large-scale sound work, "Terrain," which is currently on view in the Caroline Marmon Fesler Gallery on the fourth floor, IMA Spokesman Christopher Parker said.