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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Artist and the Astrodome

Leo Saul Berk’s art about ‘Enclosure’ at Inova

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Artist Leo Saul Berk suggests that you can go home again. In fact, doing so may prompt a rich body of work as seen in his exhibition “The Uncertainty of Enclosure, currently on view at Inova. In the 1980s, his family relocated to the United States from England. Berk was about 6 years old and his parents’ hunt for a new residence in Aurora, Ill., was not going well. At the last moment, they found a most unlikely new abode: a futuristic house designed by visionary architect Bruce Goff in 1948. The main living space, with its ribbed dome, looks like an umbrella or pumpkin, and the materials used in construction include Quonset hut supports, linear acres of hemp rope and cannel coal.

Berk has come to realize how deeply he was affected by the inventive forms of his childhood home and how the architecture suggested possibilities in his own creative work. Several years ago he went back to the house and took a chance by knocking on the door. The current owner, an architectural historian and preservationist, not only invited him in but arranged for him to stay a few days with the intention of making art.

The first piece Berk made about the home is the video, Astrodome. While filling a black terrazzo bathtub, he noticed calcium flecks decorating the surface of the water, shining in the daylight beneath a skylight made from the plastic dome of a fighter plane. The result on video looks like a tiny universe of celestial figures, moving according to laws of their own physics. In Mortar and Marbles, a wall decorated with glass cullets is revised as a fragile articulation of only the mortar between the irregular stones, forming a structure of mostly air, space and line. The curvilinear contours of the building and even the scent that emanates from the Swedish pine tar used as a preservative on the rope-covered walls and ceiling are beautifully employed in elegant articulations of a most unusual home.

“Leo Saul Berk: The Uncertainty of Enclosure” continues through Aug. 17 at Inova, 2155 N. Prospect Ave.