Art Exhibitions by Madeline Rile Smith and Morgan Gilbreath
If one of the aims of art is to allow us to see our world differently, two recent exhibitions at Impact Hub Philadelphia — Madeline Rile Smith’s Chromesthesia and Morgan Gilbreath’s Consecration — achieve that goal. Both artists are completing their Bachelor of Fine Arts at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and their exhibitions, in different ways, let us view our environment from new perspectives.
In Impact Hub’s first floor gallery, glass artist Madeline Rile Smith displayed her works “Optical Investigations” and “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra.”
“Optical Investigations” consists of a series of bulbous, fruit-like glass shapes that function as lenses to refract and distort the viewer’s perspective. In her exhibition statement, Rile Smith describes her fascination with “the optical potential of hollow glass” and her desire “to test the optical limits of borosilicate glass by creating ‘altered’ lenses made by shaping the surface of the glass.”
While “Optical Investigations” alters the visible world, “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” makes manifest an unseen world. A person with sound-color synesthesia, or chromesthesia, sees music as swirls of color. Rile Smith’s “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” freezes in glass her aural experience of hearing Max Bruch’s concert piece of the same name. The series of spindly glass shapes hanging from the ceiling captures the physical form of her auditory experience. “‘Romanze for Viola and Orchestra’ is my attempt to illustrate the experience of remembering a piece of music,” Rile Smith writes. “The first few notes of the viola solo are depicted here in glass forms, floating through space.”
To complement the glass construction, the exhibit included a banner with the musical score of the work, enhanced by splashes of color. To complete the scene, musician Caeli Smith performed on the violin, playing unaccompanied Bach along with a brief rendition of the solo from the Bruch Romanze transcribed for the violin. As her notes filled the air on one side of gallery, across the room Rile Smith’s sculpture solidified the melody in glass.
In the second floor gallery, Morgan Gilbreath’s Consecration provided a perspective on a different aspect of our environment — the life of the street. Gilbreath’s pieces are constructed from the detritus of the urban environment: old sales receipts, fragments of shattered glass, and paper dust from a Bible factory. Her works reshape these discarded items into objects with devotional overtones.
“Amass” is a tower of stacked cash register receipts standing roughly seven feet tall. The height of the work communicates the volume of discarded paper from these found and collected receipts. The work’s shape — with the receipts arrayed in order from longest at the base to shortest at the top — graphs the distribution of the length of modern register receipts (which seem to be getting ridiculously long lately). “I didn’t want to plan or control the form of the sculpture too much,” Gilbreath explained in an email, “so I decided to let the receipts I received dictate the form that was created.” Assembled together, the discarded pieces form an impressive totemic tower. The work’s title, “Amass,” cleverly echoes both the scale of the work and its spiritual thrust.
“Auras (No. 1-15)” are comprised of cleaned and fused collections of glass shards found on the street. Each of the fifteen pieces documents their location on the Philadelphia streets — Tenth and Norris, Tenth and Diamond, etc. Here, the works made from these fragments of refuse appear as jeweled amulets or crystalline geodes.
“Corner” consists of a pile of paper dust collected from the ventilation system of a Bible factory. It’s industrial trash, the side effect of manufacturing sacred texts. Yet, the pile of pure white paper fibers asks us to consider whether the spirituality of the Bible lies in its words or in its physical presence.
“Prayer Crate” similarly presents the sacred in the form of the mundane. The work casts liturgical candles into the utilitarian shape of a milk crate, an object frequently seen discarded in trash piles around Philadelphia — or repurposed as book shelves by students and others.
Gilbreath’s works do more than merely convert trash into aesthetic objects. She finds something spiritual in these assemblages of discarded materials. “There are great similarities between the moment that an everyday object becomes sacred or holy and the moment something becomes art,” she writes. “A priest’s actions turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. An artist’s gestures and intentions can transfigure anything into a work of art.”
In The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, philosopher and historian of religions Mircea Eliade describes “the abyss that divides the two modalities of experience — the sacred and the profane.” Through her art, Gilbreath seeks to construct a bridge across that abyss.
For photo albums of both exhibitions, see: