About Space: thoughts by juror Samuel Rowlett

Our upcoming international juried exhibition, Space Invaders, will be open to the public for preview this week Wednesday, December 27th through Sunday December 31st. The official opening reception is scheduled for Friday, January 5th from 6-8PM and the exhibition will run through Sunday, January 28th.

This international exhibition was juried and curated by Samuel Rowlett. A curator's talk and artist panel will be held at the gallery on Friday, January 26th at 6:30PM, light refreshments will be provided. In preparation for the exhibition, and talk, we asked Rowlett to share his thoughts about space, the theme of the exhibition, in this blog post. 


About Space

It exists before anything else exists; before ideas, before marks, before form, and before any of the other elements of art: shape, value, color, and texture. 

Space is perhaps the most necessary of the elements, because it is where we put everything else. All of our craft, movements, structures, sounds, words, songs, and all of human expression (dance, music, writing, theatre, art, architecture) occupies and is dependent upon some manner of space. Such is the lot of our corporeal reality, we move through space, yet our thoughts exist like endless crossfading scenes, limitless dreams of as-yet impossible things.

Interestingly, even once we’ve filled up all that space with our thoughts and gestures, once we’ve cut apart, and once we’ve mended, once we’ve added in and edited out, the space is somehow still there. It doesn’t go away, space can be changed, but it cannot be erased. It is a constant; it is between, behind, in front, under, above, and existing in the same place at the same time as everything else we can imagine.


Art is an exploration of prepositions.

The fifth blackbird says it best, in Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and offers an interesting conceptual examination of the importance of space as an integral function of aesthetic processes:


I do not know which to prefer,   

The beauty of inflections   

Or the beauty of innuendoes,   

The blackbird whistling   

Or just after.   

Here space, in the form of time, creates a kind of echo chamber in the ears and mind. Space gives Stevens the time to understand and appreciate the full beauty of a thing, in this stanza space is an equal to the event itself.  The poem questions whether one comprehends something while it is happening or in the space after it has happened.


Similarly, in John Cage’s composition, “Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds” in which the musicians are instructed not to play their instruments, it is the members of the audience (coughs and all) who fill the space of the score.  Here 4’33” serves as a mirror of self-consciousness, reflecting an awareness of the space the audience occupies in the theater and the role listening plays in forging connections to the world.

If we think of architecture, perhaps it is not the building itself but the space the building creates that is of most importance to us? Moreover, vitally important are the spaces in-between the buildings, the public spaces: the piazza, the square, the green, the commons, the streets all serve as places of meeting, of coming together, of dialogue, places of protest, of catalyst, of understanding and misunderstanding, places of change. These spaces force us to juxtapose ourselves with the other, to grapple with difference, here we must tolerate. Here we construct an invisible architecture, one where we build relationships and draw connections across the space that divides us.


Even the primary act of drawing, of simple mark-making, we consider the space between the marks is as essential as the marks themselves. Often, what is edited out of the work is just as significant as what is kept in it. Picture a sculptor with a block of marble, the block has an almost unlimited potential to be all possible things at the same time. And, if science tells us that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, is the absence of a thing still the thing?  Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Photography, Film, all the plastic arts are all different methods of articulating and experimenting with space. 

From personal space to public space, from empty to over-filled spaces, and from smaller formal moments in a composition to the vast conceptual realm of human thought, space, in its myriad forms, serves as a place for self-conscious reflection, calling into question our own awareness of the area through which we move and occupy. While hopefully, enabling us to forge new connections to the world around us.

- Samuel Rowlett


Samuel Rowlett, still from "Landscape Painting in the Expanded Field," 2013-Ongoing

Samuel Rowlett, still from "Landscape Painting in the Expanded Field," 2013-Ongoing

Samuel Rowlett is an artist and writer living in Western Massachusetts. Utilizing wayfinding techniques, his work synthesizes performance, sculpture, and digital media, through the lens of painting and drawing. His artwork has been exhibited widely and his writing has been featured in Hyperallergic and Boston’s art journal, Big, Red & Shiny. Rowlett has received fellowships from Yale University School of Art, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Sculpture/Installation/New Genres. His most recent curatorial projects include No Country For Old Men at Landmark College, Putney, VT, and The Known Universe, MASS MoCA Kidspace/Teenspace, North Adams, MA. Rowlett is an Associate Professor of Art at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont. His work can be viewed at samuelrowlett.com .