“Did I just hear chickens?” I ask local artist Grey Pascal last week, as we walk through Wilma Daniels Gallery on CFCC’s campus to talk about his latest exhibit, “Vital Archives.”
“Well, it may be this.” He motions with a finger toward a cluster of bright white orbs—some perfectly circular, others convex; some illuminated with LED lights, others hollow; some emitting sound, others silent.
Three or four individual sculptures make up each cluster, with four or five clusters scattered throughout the bottom floor of the New Hanover Street Parking Deck where the gallery is located. They hang from Pascal’s hand-built rafters fit with wire off the gallery ceiling. A projector hides in an orb, as it screens video onto a convex shape.
“That’s Shane and Beth,” he says. “They’re actually laughing, but I alternated the sounds between regular and slow speed to give pause to the moment itself—a moment on a loop.”
Shane Fernando, executive director of CFCC’s Wilson Center, and his best friend, Beth Crookham, local jazz singer who also works in film, are having a 3- or 4-second humorous exchange. Their laughter doesn’t sound like a cackle one may expect to hear with vibrancy and bounce. Instead its curtailed speed creates a dull bass interspersed with creaks, like that of a door opening in a horror movie.
“It’s so easy to just bypass a moment like this,” Pascal continues, “but, because of changing its pace, it makes everyone stop and listen more intently.”
“But where are the chickens coming from?” I press again. “I don’t think it’s this video.”
On the opposite end of the gallery hangs a different set of clustered orbs. On a video projection is another of Pascal’s friends, Crystal Bright. He recorded only a few seconds of her screaming but slowed it down with one split second flashing into regular motion. The sound creates what I thought were chickens.
But we are not at the gallery to talk barn animals. Pascal, a multimedia, found-object installation atrist and performance artist, will have his reception this Friday as part of downtown’s Fourth Friday Gallery Walk.
The orb project began when Pascal, now approaching his late 30s, was a spring chicken, so to speak. At 20 years old, he remembers sitting in a coffee shop and reading a horoscope that explained how molecules of our first breaths move in and out of our lungs, but remain with us for life.
“It blew me away,” he recalls. “And the more I thought about it, I said, ‘If that’s true, it’s very likely every single breath we’ve taken our entire lives have molecules in them. I started thinking about all kinds of experiences: fights, laughter, even mundane things, like talking while washing dishes. We carry those moments in the air that’s moving in and out of our lungs right now. Empirically, we carry them with us until the day we die.”
At the time Pascal also was fascinated by the idea of a fourth dimension. While artists work in 2D and 3D, and we live in 3D, Pascal went deeper into thinking about the unknown. Though we wouldn’t recognize it if it were true, could we be part of a fourth dimension? Are we a small extension of a larger whole?
“An analogy I used to help people understand it is: If you’ve got a two-dimension surface, like this table [he presses all five fingers of his hand on it] and your perception is limited to this tabletop—as in you’re in the tabletop—these five fingers pressed on it are five different things from your view,” he explains. “But the greater truth is: They are one—literally, attached to a hand. You can understand why it would seem the digits are individual if they were viewed from inside the table. I thought about the possibility of us being part of a larger, four-dimensional creature. We might be connected in a literal, physical way to a fourth dimension.”
Pascal began working at Lens Crafters while continuing to pursue installation and performance art. In 2009 the company used a machine that would dispose of polycarbonate shavings, a byproduct that came from making eye-glass lenses.
“I spent years collecting the shavings the machine would dispose of from cutting the prescription into the back of the lens,” Pascal notes. “That machine no longer exists; it’s obsolete.”
From 2009 through 2012, Pascal filled 20 or 30 containers of multiple shapes and sizes with the polycarbonate shavings. What looked like dandruff fluff overflowed at his house and art studio in ACME. After sketching and dreaming about what to do with it, after years of collecting resources needed to make the multimedia project work—video projectors, lights, recordings, moments shared by friends—after finding the commitment to tackle it, “Vital Archives” came to fruition. He made orbs from the shavings, lit some with LED lights, hid projectors in others and grouped them, with each cluster showing a moment in time that creates a breath of love, a breath of laughter, a breath of life, a breath of fear, and so on. The fourth dimension idea manifested naturally, back from the horoscope that intrigued him more than 15 years prior.
“Symbolically, my orbs and their shapes represent air sacs of the lungs of a four-dimensional creature,” Pascal notes. “When a four-dimensional shape presses itself into three dimensions, you’d have a perfect sphere in both, as seen in my circular orbs. But anything that isn’t perfect, you’d have varied shapes, oblong shapes, openings and holes of air sacs. While the orbs are all separate pieces to our eyes, theoretically, they are cross-sections of a four dimensional being.”
Even what viewers think they see within the orbs themselves are misleading. While they seem pillowy and cloudy, soft to the touch, they’re actually rough and scratchy. Though made of a plastic chemical, they aren’t reactive.
“The texture is so intriguing,” Pascal tells. “You just wanna touch it. You don’t know what it is. It’s curious, which is why I liked it.”
Though he isn’t encouraging gallery visitors to interact with the clusters, he is open to folks joining him in a sacred space he will have sectioned off on Friday evening to be a part of his performance art piece. It will be treated like a normal moment in a time, without pretention, without over-the-top antics, without any expectation. “I feel like performance art has such a stigma,” Pascal says. Known for his nude art performances, he will be clothed this go round.
“I want it to be casual and subtle, with nuance, and not have a barrier between performer and people who will be there,” he continues. “I will be talking like I am now—conversational—there’s no rule book about how to do this. If I am with someone, and another person speaks to me, I will speak to them as well. I can look away and interact naturally, as if I am with friends. I want to make it more accessible.”
The real beauty of the interaction comes from the crux of Pascal’s theme: Everyone who converses with him will walk away with a molecule of the show in their lungs forever. “They can even forget the show completely after, but it won’t matter,” he says. “Our exchange and breath will live on as long as they’re breathing.”
Each person who participates in the performance piece will receive a small glass bottle attached to twine, to hang around their necks. Inside is a seed from Pascal’s favorite hibiscus plant, from his new oxagon-shaped home in Burgaw, located on 2 acres that will be used as a venue for large-scale art installations and eventually an artist residency.
“The seed will produce beautiful brilliant red flowers,” he explains, for folks to plant and help purify the air in their own homes or to keep in the bottle. “The air in [the bottle] means it’s not truly empty, like our lungs.”