The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts May 5, 2007

Senior Nina Sarnelle Exhibits Interactive Art

In order to find senior Nina Sarnelle’s new show, “The Exhibitionist,” I had to wind my way around displays of cards and jewelry in the gift shop of the FAVA Gallery to reach the small gallery space in the back. The moment I entered, I found myself deliciously wrapped within the ironic whimsy of Sarnelle’s imagination.

By confronting the viewer with warped funhouse mirrors, dense and sometimes inscrutable flip books of nonsensical sentences, candles on draping altar-cloths and the “book that reads itself!” Sarnelle artfully hid the complexity of her art and the depth of thematic interpretation it provided with the carnival-esque feeling of the exhibition.

I felt like a kid at a magic show.

All parts revolved around the concept of a literary text as a visually temporal experience.

Each piece compelled the viewer in different ways to physically interact with it, so that the work was not only a visual pleasure but a tactile one as well. Several pieces consisted of flip books, which I actually had to manually flip through — only to discover intriguing non-sequiturs about aphids, roses, the grass and&hellip;wait a second&hellip;did I just read “LSD?”

Sarnelle’s pieces, small wonders and surprises, artfully maintain the viewer’s interest and consistently draw you further into the world that they create.

One especially creative part of the show was the “Rorschach Blots.” These paper disks, cut through with small slits, had backwards, cut-up or spiraling words that could only be read by spinning them in front of one’s face and looking through them at the funhouse mirror.

What I loved most about Sarnelle’s exhibit was the chance it gave me to delve into a childlike moment of discovery and imagination.

The realization that those illegible scrawls made sentences when I spun a “Rorschach” disk in front of my eyes was a delightful little surprise. The small jabs of irony in those fragments of language (one spells “a mite obtuse?” — by morphing a question mark into the “s” of the last word) were also tickling.

While the childlike, interactive nature of much of Sarnelle’s pieces was what drew me to them, there was a darker, more inscrutable aspect that made them more compelling than a simple child’s toy. The sentences revealed through the flip books and the words scrawled over the spinning disks hinted at something darker. The slightly sinister, nonsensical irony that was suggested through each piece made them more complicated and forced me to linger.

The only weak point of the show was, I thought, the “book that reads itself!” — a stop-motion video piece that shows cut-up pieces of text moving, crumpling and dancing across a screen. The television displaying the work is in a curtained arena, which evokes the feeling of a carnival sideshow. The audacity of the display made it less appealing, as it wasn’t as subtle and left less to the imagination than the other works, which only hint at an atmosphere of magic and showmanship and allow the viewer to make her own conclusions.

This isn’t to say the piece was bad, of course. In fact, it was possibly a more complex piece than many of the others, but perhaps it was because of how much I enjoyed the interactive elements of the rest of the show that in the end, I found myself far less interested in merely watching television.

The show’s one week engagement ends today in the back of the FAVA Gallery located at 39 S. Main Street.


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