Wind Challenge Winners Emerge, Enthrall, Engage at Fleisher

By Nicole Finkbiner
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 10, 2013

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Playing possum: Mixed-media artist Jake Kehs, one of the three Wind Challenge Exhibition Series winners, created this frighteningly realistic possum that dangles from a plastic branch inside the gallery.

There’s really no set formula for how an artist makes the transition from “emerging” to “established.” All they can really do is seek out every possible exhibition opportunity and hope that influential doors eventually start opening. Having an esteemed organization like Fleisher Art Memorial recognize your work as exceptional, well, that definitely helps loosen the hinges on those all-important doors.

Now in its 35th year, Fleisher’s Wind Challenge Exhibition Series is an annual juried competition committed to helping contemporary artists around the region advance their careers, making their art accessible to a broad audience. Named in honor of longtime supporters Dina and Jerry Wind, the competition is sort of like the local art community’s version of The Voice. Artists of all backgrounds and levels are invited to submit samples of their work and are judged solely on the merit of said work during two rounds of blind juries. The final nine artists receive a $750 honorarium, as well as a chance to participate in one of three curated exhibitions, held from September to May.

This year’s winning artists were culled from more than 200 applicants by an esteemed panel of jurors, representing a diverse group of local artists and curators.

Now on display, the final installment of the series features the works of multi-disciplinary artist Elizabeth Hamilton, photographer Julianna Foster and mixed-media artist Jake Kehs. And you don’t need to be a curator to see that these artists each possess a certain je ne sai quoi.

In Kehs’ case, it happens to be a frighteningly realistic possum dangling from a plastic branch above viewers. Using his experience with the wilderness, the artist creates his own little bizarre forest inside the gallery space.

Meanwhile, Hamilton defies the gallery walls with an installation that becomes a part of Fleisher’s façade. Inside, her series of work, titled Everything Must Go, combines photography and installation to question our relationship with material items and the contradictory feelings that a phrase like “everything must go” elicits. These contradictions include flowers sprouting from photographs, and broken antique dishware, which, when you look closely, appear to have been mended with yarn and thread.

The rebellious spirit of Kehs’ and Hamilton’s pieces—a desire to defy logic, blur the line between real and artificial and play with the boundaries of their art forms—can also been seen in Foster’s work. Known for depicting fantastic, surreal scenarios in everyday settings, her newest photo series focuses on a small coastal town and a natural phenomenon that may or may not have occurred there.

As with each of the Wind Challenge exhibitions, the featured artists have each prepared a public event program focusing on their artwork or practice and seeks to engage audiences. From 1:30-4:30 p.m. on April 20, all are welcome to stop by Fleisher for a panel discussion with Foster, as well as a yard sale hosted by Hamilton and a balloon-mail project led by Kehs.

“We give the artists the opportunity to be as free as they can to develop projects that include more people,” explains José Ortiz Pagán, Fleisher’s exhibit coordinator. “Maybe that audience that usually does not attend regular gallery exhibitions.”

Through May 11. Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St. 215.922.3456.

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