Contemporary Reactions: Shawn Porter’s “Into the Ether”

Sketches are often mindless beginnings of a thought or idea. It is the first step in creation. Shawn Porter’s Into the Ether, currently on display in UMOCA’s A-I-R Space, is a three-dimensional sketch using a variety of organic materials to create an effortless, playful piece that is open to interpretation. This openness leaves the materials, textures, and juxtapositions for the viewer to focus on.

The viewer first notices solid logs cut into sections lying on the floor. The heavy stumps are broken into pieces, but Porter attempts to reorganize them into lines, like those of their original structure. The texture of the bark is rough and rustic. At times, the bark is mutilated and cut at—exposing the raw wood underneath. Naked. The stumps feel lifeless and dead.

Slowly, another material is introduced: twine. Coarse twine is used here and there, connecting the broken pieces and filling in the gaps, almost as a bandage to mend the fragments together. The bristly twine becomes a fundamental part of reassembling and transforming the structure from what it once was to what it is trying to be.

The logs, with the help of the twine, eventually flow into long, thin strips of pliable wood. Somewhat smooth, light, and elegant, the strips flow with natural ease out of the stumps. The thin strips crawl up the walls as if they are alive, reaching out toward the viewer, searching for light and space, vine-like. The walls are an array of chaos and fluidity. Perhaps these strips act as a freeform sculpture of branches flowing in the wind.

The gallery space lighting is stark. A few bright lights harshly illuminate parts of this natural sketch. The rest of the room is dim, casting shadows onto the floor and walls. The shadows from the thin strips of wood add another playful element to Into the Ether. The dark patterns of lines on the white walls add to the three-dimensional life of this sketch, giving it solidity and surprising mystery.

The exhibition as a whole is imaginative and unexpected. At first glance, Into the Ether appears to be the assembled puzzle pieces of a tree—but not quite. To some, it may verge on whimsical and dreamlike. To others, the organic flow will remind them of medical biology and the flow of the musculoskeletal system. Or perhaps still, Into the Ether is just a collection of objects in a room, highlighting space and volume. Perhaps it is none of these things. The viewer must decide on their own as they engage with the piece. No matter the interpretation, Porter’s mere sketch will leave the viewer wanting more.


Written and Photographed by Jill Lingwall

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