The Hippo


Jul 4, 2020








“Demise” is the life-size installation in Andy Moerlein’s exhibition at New England College. Courtesy photo.

See “Pondering the Unthinkable”

Where: New England College Gallery, 39 Main St., Henniker, 428-2329 (Call ahead to see)
When: March 25 through May 1
What: In addition to “Demise,” the exhibition will contain a series of prints and stand-alone sculptures (many of which contain birds) that, Moerlein said, might be familiar to those viewers who know his work. There will also be a video installation.
Reception: Thursday, April 3, from 4 to 7 p.m. There’s a special artist talk/brunch event on Saturday, April 5, from noon to 1 p.m.

Materialism and mythicism
Andy Moerlein’s tools for “Pondering the Unthinkable”

By Kelly Sennott

 “I like to say I’m a materialist,” Andy Moerlein said among throngs of Derryfield middle school students changing classes last week.

It was just before lunchtime, and the first bell had rung. Moerlein was leading the way, up the stairs from his art classroom and through the noisy, bustling halls that lead to the Derryfield School’s Lyceum Gallery.
“I love materials. I love looking at the way different things have different properties, visually, but also how they have different stories,” Moerlein continued, as the second bell rang and the students cleared out. Moerlein plopped down on a bench in the hallway next to the gallery, which is paneled with windows.
The Bow artist and Derryfield teacher was talking about some of his latest artwork, much of which is currently on view at New England College’s Henniker art gallery in a show called “Pondering the Unthinkable.” Perhaps the most prominent piece in the exhibition: a gigantic sculpture made from wood, tar, feathers, water and handmade stones called “Demise.”
The piece itself looks like a large-headed bird man traipsing over boulders and fills the largest room of the gallery, but its subject contains much deeper meaning than what his viewers might have seen in past New England art shows. (At the Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden in Concord, for instance, his piece was the one playfully placed in a tree.)
“It [the exhibition] still has that levity, that playfulness of material that I used in other shows. … But in this case, the purpose was something different,” Moerlein said. “It’s much more confronting to the viewer: it’s for them to understand a personal reaction I have to climate change.”
This intent is something you might not get right away — the room-sized sculpture, “Demise,” looks more like a creature from a mythical tale than an environmental statement — but there’s nothing uplifting about it. The creature within it looks like a demon, and the boulders are dripping with black tar. 
These materials might also give hint to its meaning.
“It’s glossy, it’s heat, it’s smoke, it’s liquid, it’s solid. It’s very geological, and yet it’s organic, so it spans that phase of living and inert. It’s basically dead animals and plants. …. Tar is very similar to the oils we are pulling out of our earth,” Moerlein said.
In addition to his materialistic tendencies, Moerlein is an avid traveler. He began creating the exhibition, “Pondering the Unthinkable,” shortly before his one-month residency in Cusco, Peru, over Christmas break. The Derryfield School and the Guild of NH Woodworkers Education Fund helped him raise the funds necessary for such a trip, and the school granted him a few days off before and after the regular holidays.
“Before I left, I was at home, reading about Peruvian history. I was totally captured by the infrastructure of the society there and the Aztec culture, and the fact that the Spaniards came in with a small boatload and ravaged this country. They destroyed this incredible infrastructure in several days of rampaging. The society was never the same again,” Moerlein said. “Just this idea that humans can build one culture on top of another culture, on top of another culture, was kind of the stimulus to the show.” 
He’s created within other international art residencies before — years back, he worked during a residency in Switzerland — this opportunity came by chance through the Boston Sculptors Gallery. It was arranged by BSG member and Argentinian Nora Valdez, and it hosted many artists from New England and Peru.
Though he didn’t create it in Peru, the residency helped inspire his use of the bird-headed man in “Demise.” Moerlein has a self-described “storyteller’s attitude” when it comes to sculpture. The birdman in the sculpture, taken from Peruvian mythology, he said, is representing how spirituality could prevent the demise. 
“With climate change, we’re suddenly facing this extinction possibility,” Moerlein said. “Here I have these wooden structures that are too flimsy to be held up by themselves. Holding the whole thing together is the synthetic birdman.”
As seen in the March 20, 2014 issue of the Hippo. 

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu