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Bridge to Nowhere? 

Mia Feuer, "Dissonance/Resonance," installations at the Firehouse Gallery, Burlington. Through June 26.

click to enlarge “Turnstile” by Mia Feuer - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • “Turnstile” by Mia Feuer

Mia Feuer’s sprawling blue installation “Bridge” dominates the front room of the Firehouse Gallery in Burlington. The sculpture is built from painted foam that convincingly resembles I-beams and girders. These de facto broken and twisted sections of bridge seem to sprout from opposing walls, creating a morass of linear forms. The sections reach toward each other without connecting, their lines chopped into sections as if exploded. In the midst of this linear mashup, sculpted violin forms made of the same blue material cluster on the sculpture like grapes, gathering in awkward intersections of riveted beams and growing like mushrooms up the wall. Their curvilinear forms contrast with the hard-edged architectural aesthetic of the beams.

The Winnipeg-born Feuer was a 2009 participant in Burlington City Arts’ Seven Below artist-in-residency program. She had what the Seven Below website describes as a “Hebrew-Zionist education,” and her experiences living in both Israel and Palestine inform her works at the Firehouse.

The audio guide, which can be accessed via cellphone, is particularly helpful when one is viewing Feuer’s installations. It offers context and culturally specific knowledge that visitors might not otherwise have. The guide explains, for example, that “Bridge” references the crumbling infrastructure of the West Bank. With that understanding, viewers can access the work on a more conceptual level, as a metaphor for the complex and seemingly intractable conflicts plaguing the region.

In the back room of the gallery hangs Feuer’s work “Shuay, Shuay,” a pale-green neon sign made to look like the handwritten Arabic words that mean “slowly, slowly.” It recalls a phrase the artist often heard in the West Bank. As the audio guide explains, people there use it as a kind of shorthand for the incredibly slow pace of the peace process and the difficulties of daily life.

“Turnstile,” also in the back room, is a large-scale maze of steel rotating doors that recall a subway. Some of the spoke-like doors allow passage, while others are stationary, impeding and confusing traffic through the sculpture. Turnstiles are ubiquitous in the West Bank, where people must travel through checkpoints every day, not knowing whether they’ll be allowed through. As viewers enter each turnstile of Feuer’s installation, they face the same ambiguity; some doors turn, and some remain immovable. Viewers must enter the cage-like space of the turnstile and take their chances.

In “Untitled (Encounter at the School of Art at Nablus University, Summer 2007),” a video installation adjacent to “Turnstile,” the camera focuses on a young man singing and playing traditional Arabic songs on guitar, with a group of other people heard off-camera. The audio guide describes this work as ironic, given that Feuer happened on this group singing the day after shootings at the school killed eight students. What seems to be a happy gathering may actually be a means of escaping the constant weight of violence and fear. The circumstances of the video and its installation near “Shuay, Shuay” and “Turnstile” reinforce the hardships of life in occupied lands, and the physical and emotional toll of the conflict.

The musical-sounding title “Dissonance/Resonance” encompasses both the physical form and sounds of the exhibition. The violins in “Bridge,” the metal-on-metal screech of “Turnstile” and the singing in Feuer’s video work contribute to the sonic atmosphere of the space. Combining the twisting tendrils of the broken bridge, the spiky turnstiles and the languid words “Shuay, Shuay,” the exhibition is a layered matrix of experiences that mirrors the complexity of challenges in the Middle East. Feuer references the physical landscape of the region — its blockades and crumbling bridges — but wisely steers clear of the worn, unhelpful polarization of its political landscape. Her works make clear the shared humanity of the viewer and those on all sides of the conflict, while obscuring the issues that have long divided them.

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