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Endurance Art and painting collide at BFA show

Conceptual performance art and paintings, inspired by 18th century Neo-Classicists such as Jacques Louis David, will be given the chance to coexist at Skylab Saturday as Tim Cavnar, a graduating senior at OSU, presents his BFA show, titled “The Things I Did in School.” Even those who are unfamiliar with these two media may find themselves drawn to Cavnar’s work, as the artist seeks to illicit a visceral reaction from the viewer.

The performance work is grounded in endurance art, a style that emerged in the early 1970s with artists such as Vito Acconci staging pieces that tested both the artist’s threshold for pain and the audience’s understanding of art. These works are typified by artists crawling through broken glass and suspending themselves from hooks and have inspired a generation of artists and people as diverse as David Blaine and the cast of “Jackass.”

Cavnar’s performance work differs from those entertainers because it retains the original intention of endurance art. Riding a skateboard in an alligator pit or dangling from a glass box tests physical endurance just as much as conceptual pieces, but it has no symbolic value. It goes for the cheap laughs, and everyone needs a chuckle now and again, but endurance art seeks to explore more intense personal issues dealing with identity, loss and alienation.

“Take it like a man,” among Cavnarís best works, is a particular example. The piece is presented as a video work documenting an event staged during a period of confusion in his life. It begins with Cavnar sitting calmly in a chair. Two men appear from off camera. One moves behind him and holds him arms as the other delivers heavy blows to his face and chest. Cavnar makes no attempt to fight back and is knocked off the chair. As the two men leave, he gets back into the chair, and though visibly shaken, he composes himself and regains the calm he had displayed at the beginning.

This piece was inspired by the dramatic change in Cavnar’s family when he learned his father has left his mother for another man, having kept his sexuality a close guarded secret for his entire life. This disruption threw into question Cavnar’s ideas about manhood, as everything his father had taught him seemed to be a lie. The relationship with his father had been foundational in determining Cavnar’s idea of himself and the world around him, and losing it made him doubt everything he had once believed in.

With the help of this piece, Cavnar was able to eventually deal with these issues and create a new relationship with his father. The personal quality of the work is essential, yet also makes poignant statements in regard to the general notions of violence, sexuality and the intersection of these two forces.

Cavnar sustained a broken rib from one particularly fierce blow to the chest, but to him, it was all worth it. “When I think of ideas (for pieces), I think, ‘Oh no, now I have to do it,'” Cavnar said. “But when it’s over, it’s a great feeling. There’s just silence in the room and it’s like everyone is just in a bubble.”

These sorts of conceptual issues are not present in Cavnar’s paintings and drawings, which depict dead birds, flowers and construction equipment. These subjects were chosen on the basis of the beautiful way in which they inhabit space. In rendering them, Cavnar is more concerned with traditional notions of aesthetics, owing his sensibility to the Neo-Classicist and Romantic movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The performance work deals with personal issues, evidenced by his two-dimensional work.

“Its all about the image,” says Cavnar.

One work that is not to be missed in his “Triptych with Two Dead Birds,” a three-paneled oil painting on paper. Using a subtle palette of orange, red, beige and green, two panels feature dead geese while the remaining panel depicts a single flower. The images are consistent in hue and tone and are well framed upon pristine white backgrounds.

Cavnar’s paintings and drawings demonstrate that he has not only intriguing concepts, but also the conventional artistic talent and technique to convey them – a rare gift.

The public is invited to Skylab, located at 57 E. Gay St. in downtown Columbus, on Saturday, May 15, for the opening reception between 7 and 10 p.m. The works may also be seen by appointment on Friday and Sunday. Appointments may be made by contacting the artist at 306-0981.

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