Starclocks and visions

Artist's found-object works are 'metaphors for life'

Imagine this: A room with a Mylar ceiling, space-age reflective insulation covering its walls and artwork using computer motherboards, clock wheels, gears and other discarded items mounted on chicken-wire columns or frames throughout the room.

That's what visitors can expect to see at Mri Pilar's "Garden of Isis Starclock" installation at the Deeble House in Lucas. It's a visionary art installation that fits hand-in-hand with the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition, "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future," which will be shown Friday-Sept. 20 at the town's Grassroots Art Center.

"Yesterday's Tomorrows" presents an historical view of what Americans thought the future would look like, beginning in 1900 and continuing through the late 20th century. The exhibit features images of robots, flying machines and a 1950s living room that could be cleaned with a garden hose. The exhibit also explores how the idea of progress toward the future affects values, attitudes and public issues.

"The Smithsonian exhibit is about how the people in the 1950s perceived the future," Pilar said. "(With my work) I want to inspire everyone to see into everyday discarded objects and see into the alchemy of how things transmute. It's a metaphor for life."

A grassroots inspiration

Pilar's involvement in the Lucas project was unexpected. Even though she was experiencing success, the Lawrence painter had all but decided to give up on an art career.

"I was still cutting my teeth but I had had good success as a beginner," she said. "But it was not satisfying. I Artist


needed a larger environment and an educational component for my art."

Last Christmas, Pilar had lunch with a friend in Salina and they decided to drive to Lucas to see the Garden of Eden, a turn-of-the-century limestone home and concrete sculptures depicting the Populist Party that were created by Samuel Perry Dinsmoor.

"I was fascinated by S.P. Dinsmoor, the larger-than-life character he is. Everyone has something different to say about him. No two accounts jibe, and there's a mystery about the Garden of Eden."

Pilar said she was drawn to Dinsmoor's use of Masonic symbols and the different interpretations viewers attached to them.

After visiting the Garden of Eden, Pilar and her friend stopped at the Florence Deeble House to see the rock garden created in the back yard. She immediately knew that she wanted to create some sort of artwork or environment in the small north-central Kansas town.

She pitched a proposal for the "Garden of Isis Starclock" installation and a series of educational programs to the board of the Grassroots Art Center.

"I told them I wanted to make an environment and cover it with motherboards � and that it would lead to workshops with children," she said.

The board's response was favorable, and eventually Pilar received a grant from the Kansas Arts Commission to carry out her vision.

Living in the moment

To create the 350 artworks in the exhibit, Pilar needed a mountain of computer parts and other found objects. She began collecting items others had discarded. She went through the city's trash bins and found treasures at such places as Lawrence Social Service League and Celestial Iron Works.

She was able to find computer motherboards at The Surplus Exchange in Kansas City, Mo., and IRI Rep in Overland Park.

Once the objects started to accumulate, Pilar started to create.

"I had no ideas (when I started on a piece). The faucet would go on and for about half a day I would pick up objects and put things together," she said. "Then the faucet would go off, and then I had to work to finish them. It was never a conscious effort to create a piece."

Pilar calls those works "unclocks" because they were made in the moment and with no preconceived notion about what art is.

One work, for example, has a plastic baby doll in a life jacket at its center. The doll seems to float on a sea of glass bubbles and is surrounded by plastic Buddhas. The items are assembled on a plastic circular form that could be a washing machine part.

Another work has a feminine mask at its center. The mask is surrounded by male action figures, and the items are set against a motherboard background.

"She (the feminine mask) is the perceiving point in the center, the point of stillness with star wars going on around her," she said.

Pilar will be an artist-in-residence in Lucas throughout the duration of the Smithsonian exhibition. She will help Lucas schoolchildren and adult visitors create their own unclock icons or collages.

"With visionary art, it's a point of perceiving the world," she said. "It isn't made in a market sense, but by a sense of inner vision."

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