The ‘Process’ artist
Reina Katzenberger opens up for Art Base show
What: Reina Katzenberger’s ‘Art in Process’
Where: The Art Base, Basalt
When: Friday, Feb. 4, 5-7 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: theartbase.org
The artist Reina Katzenberger has been interrupted regularly over the past three weeks as she’s chipped away on her latest large-scale mixed-media work. That’s been the point of “Art in Process,” an innovative combination of art installation and residency that has put Katzenberger herself on display at the Art Base in Basalt.
She has made the gallery her studio and kept the door open for passersby to talk about the art or, as it turned out, much more.
The physical result of “Art in Process” is a massive painting made on wrinkled reclaimed vinyl that now covers an entire wall in the front gallery. In it, Katenberger has rendered a massive pair of lungs and a heart, with tendrils of tree roots and branches extending out of the lungs into space of the unfinished piece. Inlaid in the work are outlines of the continents.
Lungs and breathing, of course, have been on everybody’s mind during the pandemic and made their way into her chats with the public as did ideas about unity and division.
Katzenberger found in the early days of this experiment that she had to commit to being vulnerable with the public. She brought personal things into the space to make it a working studio and home, from books and paintings to her grandfather’s drafting table and her father’s typewriter. To let her conversations with visitors guide her creatively, she committed not to plan what would happen during the residency.
“It became more and more clear for me that it had to be really unscripted,” she said, “for it to be honest and successful and to not feel clever. So that was hard.”
The goal was to find genuine conversation and to genuinely listen, meaning she wouldn’t have any canned sound bytes to share, wouldn’t have talking points or an elevator pitch for visitors.
“It was about actually listening to people, not having a response ready, not having the clever thing to say,” she said. “That’s been really amazing, because all different kinds of people walked through the door.”
Daughter of Art Base founder Deb Jones, Kateznberger is based in Carbondale and makes art with reclaimed materials. She also runs the service learning-oriented The Project Shop at the art collective SAW.
The Art Base leadership, including executive director Skye Skinner and curator Lissa Ballinger, encouraged Katzenberger to embrace the unknowns of the project.
“Because of my love for this organization and feeling so well-supported,” she said, “I was like, ‘You know, I can do that. I can come here and put a huge piece of reclaimed vinyl on the wall that’s just white and have no plan.’”
Her walk-ins included many groups of school kids and a lot of tourists, some who have settled here during the pandemic’s urban exodus.
“People would come in and be like, ‘What’s going on? I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Katzenberger recalled. “But I’d just say, ‘Well, tell me why you’re here. What do you think? What do you see?’”
The conversations that it inspired grew surprisingly personal.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. ”The conversations got juicy and I found, ‘Man, we are all in this together and life is hard.’”
Her painting started to take shape from those conversations — ideas about what unites us in these very divided times came up, illness came up a lot, death and fear of it or exasperation with it came up, too, as did the hope for common ground and the idea that, as Katzenberger put it, “we all breath the same air.” That led her to the lungs and the tree roots.
For the Art Base as an organization, the idea brought together its role as an exhibition space and as a forum for art education.
“The exhibition proposal was really to try and make the educational program here — that is so dear to my heart — more visible to the public,” Katzenberger explained. “It was that simple to start with.”
The idea was for artist to create her next body of work in the gallery as she used it as her studio, offering a window — a literal window for those looking in from the sidewalk on Midland Avenue — into the process of creating art and creative problem solving in real-time.
The public was invited to come in, ask questions and start conversations with Katzenberger. The gallery announced she’d be there from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, also running a livestream online. Katzenberg kept to those hours, but also came in late at night to do work because she found the open studio time was occupied with conversation with drop-ins.
As the experiment concludes this week, the Art Base is hosting a closing party and conversation with Katzenberger on Friday evening. As of Tuesday, she was unsure what she would do with the vinyl “Art in Process” mural that she created and was uncertain whether she should make something to give away or sell at the closing gathering. If you have ideas, she’s still listening.
“I’m trying to stay true to this process,” she said. “So I get to not know.”
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Basalt-based furniture designer Andrea Wendel will open the exhibition “Purposeful Objects” at the Art Base in Basalt on Friday.