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The CAC’s latest exhibit, ‘Garden of Forking Paths,’ thrills even as it bewilders

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Fork it up: The CAC looks … different this month

The disorienting neutrality of the CAC’s Garden of Forking Paths surprises as much as it bewilders. Individually, each element in this installation of prints, collage and sculpture suggests a location of familiarity: a home, a yard, the forest. Familiarity breeds comfort, but the viewer is given no information beyond generic pictorial signifiers, no narrative clues on which to hang a hat. Where is this home, this yard, this forest? No single piece commits itself to place or preference.

The Details

Garden of Forking Paths
Four stars
Through August 18; Wed-Sat, 2-7 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; free
Contemporary Arts Center, 382-3886

Garden is a collaborative response by artists Katie Baldwin, Nichola Kinch and Katie Murken to the Jorge Luis Borges story of the same name. A visionary genius of the short story, the Argentinian Borges specialized in innovative prose that questioned (among other things) authorship, reality and time. Garden is a story that cunningly layers the possibility of simultaneous outcomes within a single narrative, where there is no one path for our anti-hero but many paths happening at one time. Although Borges’ story is primarily concerned with time, the artists have translated the temporal into the spatial.

Murken is perhaps most literal with her series “Freedom From Want and Need.” In collages that combine inkjet print, pastel and spray paint, the viewer is suspended in the middle of a wooded landscape whose subtle color shifts from lavender to lime create a dreamy non-reality. Depth and vantage are muted, as are entrance and exit points in this forest without beginning or end.

While striking and essential to the mood of the installation, Murken’s stark “Totems: Dots & Dashes” slightly hemorrhages the neutrality of the space. Towering constructions of blanched trees and cast basketballs, these columns of identifiable references combine with a visual system that shimmies close enough to language to momentarily suspend the rootless non-narrative spell.

Another view of CAC's latest exhibit, Garden of Forking Paths.

Floating throughout the installation are Kinch’s series of incised photographs mounted on fiberglass, “House.” Offering windows to nowhere and brick walls without a roof, empty and ambling, Kinch dislocates the architecture of home.

Baldwin’s two series of mokuhanga prints, “Neighborhood” and “Trap,” are exceptional. A variety of nameless, etched black cages fill the tiny confines of “Trap,” while the vacant and enclosed spaces of each “Neighborhood” suggest the temporal anxiety of de Chirico. The alluring physicality of printmaking makes the suffocating psychology of Baldwin’s prints that much more unsettling.

Garden is a place of inertia. Without hierarchy or detail, or clear indicators of direction or access, the installation space is neutralized. Each “path” of visual experience is equivalent and simultaneous to the other. In its subtle objectivity, Garden suggests that there is no right or wrong course, only a series of endless and equal possibilities.

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Danielle Kelly

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