Soap Factory: making the ordinary extraordinary

Soap Factory director Ben Heywood is a quote-making machine.

Exhibit A: “The problem with contemporary art is most of it’s boring.”

Exhibit B: “Understanding art is about learning how to trust lies.”

Exhibit C: “It’s real, but it’s not real REAL real.”

Those are just a few of the provocative statements Heywood made as he showed me around The Soap Factory’s latest exhibition “The Erasers.” The group show features works that compel you to look deeply at moments or details that you would other wise ignore, or simply miss.

And really, isn’t the primary challenge of all art to get you to look?

One of the standout pieces is titled “Extended Bliss,” and it features an image many of us see every day.

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Extended Bliss, Mike Ruiz

Heywood says Ruiz’ image immediately grabbed him:

It’s a mundane object – a screensaver – and here it’s blown up into a full canvass. The title of the piece – “Extended Bliss” – I like that kind of romantic impression that it gives. It’s extending the metaphor of that computer/internet interface… falling through a flat panel into an extended world, this blissful landscape of new possibilities. But it’s also just this crap image on everyone’s computer monitor. Who chose this image in the first place? Why?

Oh and about Heywood’s comment that most contemporary art is boring; in large part Heywood blames the galleries.

“One of the problems I have with contemporary art display is that it’s exhibited in a “non-place” – a tabula rasa, a blank white room. The aesthetics of our building – an old warehouse – creates a wholly different dialogue with the art. It gives you just a little bit of a spark – it ignites a stronger interest in what you’re looking at, than if it were a sparse empty space.”

Other works in the exhibition include almost missable rusty nails stuck in the old factory’s support pillars (in truth, the nails are carved from wood and painted to resemble rusty iron). Is it art if it blends in completely? Is it art if you don’t even know you’ve seen it?

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No Locative, Justin Schlepp

While some things you might not see purely due to a lack of awareness, other moments are simply too fleeting to catch, such as the above still of Julie Andrews in the film Mary Poppins. Is she about to sneeze? Is she singing? Or simply rolling her eyes at Bert’s childlike behavior? Whatever she’s doing, she doesn’t look at all the way we think of her. But anyone who has seen the movie has seen this moment – we simply didn’t realize it.

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Replaced Mona Lisa, Mike Ruiz

Perhaps the most playful piece of the bunch is another work by Mike Ruiz. And in this case what’s notable is what’s missing. The most recognized face in art history – Mona Lisa – has left the painting.

Remember Heywood’s comment “Understanding art is about learning how to trust lies?”

Heywood says Ruiz is challenging our understanding of art.

“Art is fiction,” says Heywood. “What’s behind Mona Lisa? Nothing! It’s a painting. But in this painting it’s as though she’s gotten up and walked away.”

Mona Lisa is a real person, Heywood says, somebody painted her; but the painting of her is not really real.

In fact, Ruiz didn’t even paint the painting. He hired a painter in China to create this canvas in the Renaissance style. So who’s the artist? What’s the art?

Heywood says throughout the exhibition, viewers must determine whether or not they can trust their own eyes.

“But,” he adds, throwing out his last provocative quote of the day, “aren’t all artists telling lies?”

The Erasers runs through July 17 at The Soap Factory.

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