In the short video by Andrew Wilkinson, a fire is crackling in the white brick fireplace. Artist-curator Debbie Reichard stands alongside the 1970s-era suburban hearth, advocating the viewer to “Become a Perfect Citizen” and help support the catalog and shipping expenses for large-scale sculpture to the Arts Council of Princeton.
With her fresh face and sweet voice, Reichard, who has charmed Princeton-area artgoers before with her large-scale Santa-in-toast installation, makes a compelling case, and I found myself reaching for my credit card. “I guess I have to thank Jimmy Carter for the fireside chat idea,” says Reichard, 42, who is curating “Perfect Citizen,” a group show that opens Saturday, May 7, at the Arts Council of Princeton. It is on view through Friday, June 24.
The late James Colavita once said that all ceramic artists are pyromaniacs, so that might explain Reichard’s love of being around fire. A ceramics show she curated at Artworks a year ago was titled “Around the Campfire,” and one of the works in the show, a video by Emily Bivens, depicts a man standing before a fireplace, sipping from a ceramic bowl that drops and breaks. (The film then reverses itself and the shards come back together to form a cup the man sips from.)
Back at the ranch — or, rather, at the colonial house in Hopewell Reichard shares with Andrew Weiss, an alternative rock musician — Rhode Island Reds are pecking and clucking. Life is good for these chickens, who have a tractor coop (a bottomless coop with wheels that allows the chickens to scratch and eat grass, weeds, and bugs off the ground — and the chicken manure can fertilize wherever it is wheeled) that has been added onto three times in three years. In turn they provide fertilizer for the rhubarb and garlic growing nearby. In another month, this bucolic retreat will include a beehive.
Throughout the yard are vestiges of Reichard’s sculpture and ceramic work, including some made from urinals she brought back from the Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI, where artists develop work in clay, enameled cast iron, and brass to create murals and site-specific installations. One speckled urinal, turned upside down and with a doll form mould inside, becomes a reliquary in her garden.
Ceramic sculpture sprouts alongside little signs for bleeding heart and beard tongue, a concrete bowl filled with seashells and a Buddha, and through the garage window, white glove forms can be seen reaching toward the sky.
On a warm spring day, cubes made of garden hose are not to be used to water the aforementioned rhubarb. Reichard creates illusions with hoses, buckets, and water, and this installation, at press time, was still under consideration for “Perfect Citizen,” space permitting.
The garage is Reichard’s warm-weather studio, but for now the artist, who is expecting her first baby in October, works from a basement studio. In the kitchen she offers up healthful snacks: cut-up apple sections and Irish cheddar cheese.
Reichard shows some of the ceramic items that will be given as premiums, just like on public radio, to donors to the “Perfect Citizen” project. There are mugs made by the sister of artist Andrew Wilkinson (who collaborated with Reichard on “Around the Campfire”). The mugs are actually “seconds,” and he adds floral decals to his sister’s minimalism, thus “clobbering” them. Clobbering, says Reichard, is a ceramic term that refers to using someone else’s ceramic work that you alter to increase its value.
Other premiums are a sketchbook with the “Perfect Citizen” logo on it and “Perfect Citizen” ceramic plates made by Reichard for donors at the $100 level. They are available in white or “sexy satin black,” and for your pledge you also get the catalog and a “creative license.”
What, exactly, is “Perfect Citizen?”
According to a press statement, the exhibit “positions the artist as an observer, subversive, and trickster with a practiced ability to access and act on intuition.”
The “Perfect Citizen” website states: “While spotlighting the artist as having a unique vision, ‘Perfect Citizen’ exemplifies universal human inventiveness, optimism, and drive to create and see things anew. The overall attitude will be that, while these artists have devoted time to an art career, the viewer, too, has the ability to see their world in a new way, and thus turn it around.”
“‘Perfect Citizen’ is someone who misbehaves, not in a destructive way, but redirecting people’s attention, playing around with the social rules,” says Reichard.
The title comes from a U.S. government program, Perfect Citizen, which monitors cyber attacks.
“I read about it in the news,” says Reichard, who was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Media, PA, and Pine Beach, NJ. “The program allows your computer activity to be accessed. If you have suspicious activity, the government, through the Perfect Citizen program, can access your searches.”
Reichard chose artists she knew who had work that fit the theme. Perhaps the signature piece of the show is Tim Eads’s “3,178 minus 366,” a sort of exercise bike that churns butter.
This makes infinite sense. Go to any gym these days, and you see factory-style rows of humans walking on treadmills. Meanwhile we’re destroying the planet in our search for energy sources. It’s about time someone harnessed the energy from human exercise.
A free artist talk and butter churning event with Tim Eads will take place on Monday, May 23, 5 to 7 p.m. Every effort will be made to use local cream for churning the butter. Did we mention there is a toaster built into the front of the exercise bicycle? Visitors can sample the freshly churned better atop toasted bread.
“It’s a little bit ‘House-on-the-Prairie,’” says Reichard of the bright yellow contraption.
The title, “3,178 minus 366,” refers to the number of calories in one pound of butter minus the number of calories burned on a 30-minute bike ride. “It takes 30 minutes of biking to make a pound of butter,” explains Reichard.
Aron Johnston, an artist who is interested in signs and their place in the environment, looks at the way signs send people on a detour. His “20090714 BOP: PB.NJ” is part of a series of sign interventions used to dislocate viewers from the locations where the signs are observed. The sign in “20090714 BOP:PB.NJ” was inspired by a drawing of the Battle of Princeton by an Unknown Soldier from the battle. It is displayed as an illuminated sign designed to document the action in a way that is just as layered and dislocated as the original sign intervention.
Erin M. Reilly creates large tapestries in grays and blacks that depict roads, with cars going off roads. “It’s all wrong to make a tapestry of it, but that’s why I like it,” says Reichard.
Lucas Kelly is doing a site-specific installation using flags from car dealerships that start outdoors, then cross the interior of the lobby and hang down the hall. There will also be large drawings on vellum of planks. “As opposed to the heroic figure, these represent the individual,” says Reichard, who enjoys curating because she thrives on the interaction with other artists. “They may become a deck or a house. Some are warped and damaged.”
Reichard will also have a tapestry in the show. Her father was a civil engineer for the Navy, and her mother was a special education teacher’s aide. Reichard graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1992 and earned an MFA in 2002 from the University of Washington — Seattle. She makes tapestries from airplane blankets that bear the label “property of U.S. Airways,” for example. She has embroidered the letter “A” for anarchy into one blanket.
Upstairs, in the room she uses for making her tapestries, are several diptychs made in a bandana print — the sign of a bandit or a runaway, she says.
One tapestry, completed for an upcoming fiber show in Millville, uses black walnut dye harvested from her property to reproduce lines from spam onto fabric: “re: I have done what you asked me to do” or “re: you are among the lucky ones.”
Art Exhibit, Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street. Saturday, May 7, 4 to 6 p.m. Opening reception for “Perfect Citizen” featuring arts by Paul Coors, Andrew Demirjian, Tim Eads, Aron Johnson, Lucas Kelly, Debbie Reichard, Erin M. Riley, Yumi Janairo Roth, Chris Vorhees, and Andrew R. Wilkinson. Opening reception also for “Terrace Project: Rory Mahon,” on view to December 3. Arts talk and butter churning event with Tim Eads on Monday, May 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. On view to June 25. 609-924-8777 or www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.