published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

'Okay Mountain'

A nine-member artists collective exhibits in UTC's Cress Gallery

The next Diane Marek Visiting Artist Series presents "Okay Mountain" in Cress Gallery at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

When it opens Wednesday, visitors will see four installations created by an artists collective calling itself Okay Mountain.

Since forming in 2009, the collective has won acclaim in exhibits from Miami to New Orleans, from New York City to Los Angeles. The members strive to blend humor with irony to create engaging yet serious commentary about contemporary times.

If there is an overriding theme in their work, the members say, it might be contemporary culture's penchant for confusing superficial materiality with knowledge and reason, coupled with society's culpability as participants in perpetuating the situation. Their use of humor, they say, is a way to engage the viewer in the work, consider deeper issues and even question the nature of humor itself.

For example, Okay Mountain's "Corner Store," which was exhibited in 2009 in the Pulse Contemporary Art Fair during Art Basel Miami Beach, consisted of a typical convenience store stacked with hundreds of items made by the collective. Each item was for sale to visitors.

"Okay Mountain at the Cress will depart from the collaborative's previous exhibitions," said Ruth Grover, curator of Cress Gallery. "Rather than feature a single installation, this exhibition will feature a recent retrospective of three works in a range of media previously premiered at other locations and a fourth work to be unveiled in the Cress."

"The Wheel," "Multi-Station Machine" and "Water, Water Everywhere, So Let's All Have a Drink" are the previously exhibited installations that will accompany the new, as yet to be debuted, artwork.

In a broad sense, artists collectives have long existed for many reasons -- collective buying of artist materials, sharing communal studio space and creating exhibitions that find more opportunities for exposure for individual members. Yet it is rare today that an artists collective collaborates in the manner of Okay Mountain. With its accepted de-emphasis on the individual to draw upon the strengths and labor of each member of the group as a single entity, Okay Mountain creates work that few artists can accomplish alone.

As a collaborative, each member shares an equal weight and responsibility with every endeavor. Each work is produced through the collective contributions of the individual toward a singular whole, not each individual contributing a piece of work toward an end exhibition. This process employs the current skills of every member and also challenges each individual to build new skills. This working process results in large-scale works of complex conceptualization and immense craft in fabrication and exhibition.

The nine members of Okay Mountain are Sterling Allen, Nathan Green, Ryan Hennessee, Carlos Rosales-Silva, Michael Sieben, Josh Rios, Justin Goldwater, Tim Brown and Peat Duggins.

A lecture by Okay Mountain's artists will be held on Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a reception. The show continues through March 20.

Cress Gallery, in the Fine Arts Center at the corner of Vine and Palmetto streets, is open 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For information, call 304-9789.

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