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Big Orbits

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REVIEW: Richard Huntington, Buffalo News (September 2000)
REVIEW: Brad Wales, Artvoice (October 2000)

Big Bang at Big Orbit


Imagine a collaboration between the Niagara Region's remaining Rust Belt industries and Buffalo's vibrant cultural base. Big Orbit's current exhibit, Big Orbits, an installation by UB Department of Architecture professors Frank Fantauzzi and Mehrdad Hadighi, provides an insightful example of how such a collaboration can occur.

The exhibit notes explain the project "began by filling the gallery with pallets, a by-product of Buffalo's industrial heritage." In all, 4,500 wood pallets, donated by the Buffalo-based Pallet Exchange Inc., were received, inventoried, stored, stacked, scribed, cut, and fastened together to form two large constructions: the first is a 34'-8" long solid ellipse set in Big Orbit's courtyard, the second piece is a cave-like elliptical void of the same shape, carved out of a 24' long by 24' wide by 16' high block of stacked pallets, located inside the gallery.

On one level, the work is a straightforward solid-void inversion; at other levels, the work conjures poetic associations of material, site, scale, process, and history. For example, previous to housing Big Orbit, the building was an ice distribution warehouse; whereas in the past, the gallery had been filled with ice, not it is filled with pallets.

This installation can be seen as a measurement or displacement project, quantifying the number of pallets, amount of time, or drywall screws (15,000) the project took to complete.

While not as overt in its social commentary as some of Fantauzzi and Hadighi's previous projects, the minimalist Big Orbits installation acts like some kind of prodigious Great Lakes/Rust Belt metaphor generator: multiple metaphors for the elliptical solid alone include an egg, ark, orb, and although the artists said they never though of it, a football.

The consciously non-art constructions, an ode to the common wood pallet and perhaps the drywall screw, inspired the spirited opening reception crowd to lean on, put their drinks on, climb on, and run around the two large structures. The unintended Fluxus-type, childlike responses of gallery goers may be attributed to the voyeuristic aspects of the stacked pallets - to the type of please one gets looking through book stacks in a library. Or it may have been the Alice in Wonderland size of pure geometric constructions, what Hadighi called the "mad scale" of the project. Or it may simply have been the excitement of starting the new gallery season off with a well-crafted bang.

Brad Wales in an architect in Buffalo, New York