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Ties That Bind : Margi Scharff's installation linking mundane items shows how we connect 'to history and to people throughout time.'

March 11, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

BURBANK — When Margi Scharff received an invitation to a 72-year-old man's birthday party, she began thinking about what to give him.

She pondered how there must have been many people along the way who had affected his life, about how one thing leads to another. She decided that she would collect 72 things and connect them one to another. Around her studio she found nails, rubber bands, string and rope before she branched out to seek other kinds of connectors. The gift ended up 12 feet long, a seemingly endless chain that kept the birthday boy enthralled as he pulled and pulled to get it out of the box.

Scharff couldn't forget the idea of connection that she developed putting together that gift. In 1992, she created the installation, "A Series of Miscellaneous Connections . . ." at Cerritos College's Art Gallery. Since then, she has expanded upon that artwork. Its current evolution, at Woodbury University's Art Gallery in Burbank, takes viewers on an inventive, joyful ride, using the most mundane of objects to send them to the stars.

"It's a portrait of people and how we connect ourselves to history and to people throughout time," said Scharff, who collected connecting objects from friends as she put the work together.

She began with a piece of string and thoughts about the less than innocuous nature of connectors. Nails pierce an object. Rubber bands hold and expand.

The linear portion of the installation, which winds its way across one wall of the gallery, is made up of everything from car parts, rings, earrings, a tape dispenser, clothes and safety pins to nails, neckties, barrettes and keys, lots of keys.

"I'm the kind of person who loses keys all the time," Scharff said. "Keys are a particular function of our society. They are about connections and barriers."

Certain objects would "spring out of line," said Scharff, accumulating into groups by color, texture or function. "It's the linear aspect rolling itself into balls."

Upon reaching the end of the chain of connections on the wall, one turns to face an explosion of variously sized balls, scattered from floor almost to the ceiling, conveying the sense of heavenly bodies in space. Each ball sports primarily one type of connector--electrical wires and cords, rubber bands, ties, belts, shoelaces--to name a few.

Anyone who has been fascinated by the inner workings of things, from the rubber-band layers of golf balls to the mazes of electrical appliances, will likely be drawn to the tactile nature of these pieces.

At the opposite end of the gallery is a group of small prints and photographs. The mixed-media lithographs, "In the beginning," embody stellar space. Scharff's self-portraits are the central focus of the multilayered photographs.

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"Using my face, I can work figuratively. The prints are celestial scale; anything I make sculpturally is going to be human scale," Scharff said. "I don't limit myself to a certain set of materials. I feel free not to limit myself."

"What I liked about the installation is its narrative quality, its visualizing of random thoughts," said gallery director Carolee Toon-Parker. "Like speech and language, it goes through transmutations."

"It's a real playful piece," Scharff said. "In the beginning I envisioned a braid that got thicker. I started out with a set idea and it changed. The objects affected one another, and I didn't anticipate that. There were visual connections in the shapes of things. And I was surprised by what friends gave me, by people's different interpretations of connection."

Among unanticipated items were a 45 r.p.m. record--"sound connects you to a time," she said--and baby bottle nipples from a new mother.

"The playfulness of this (installation) is really important to me," Scharff said. "I would like to see people laughing in here. There is humor in odd connections. And I do like the belief that you can make art out of anything."

Where and When What: "A Series of Miscellaneous Connections . . ." installation by Margi Scharff. Location: Woodbury University's Art Gallery, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank. Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Ends March 25. Call: (818) 767-0888, Ext. 337.

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