Originally created 05/03/04

Boston arts center displays works inspired by obsession and compulsion



BOSTON -- A Boston artist has dedicated a museum exhibit to the type of behavior that causes some to separate their M&Ms into colors, pop bubble wrap until there is no more plastic to crush and focus all their attention on the most minute detail out of pure obsession.

The exhibit at the Boston Center for the Arts is called "OCD," as in obsessive compulsive disorder. Curator Matthew Nash said it's not about an illness but how the creative process can be driven by a series of obsessions and compulsions.

"You should see my studio," said Nash, who has shown his art in Boston, Chicago, New York and Italy.

He is one of the people who separates his Skittles, M&Ms and Reese's Pieces into separate containers for each color. He used the latter two sugary goods to create his art for the "OCD" exhibit, which lasts through May 9 and features artists from New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Using the Halloween-like colors in the candies, Nash made a grid that forms the images of soldiers, planes and other war-related pictures.

"The obsession of this is having bins and bins of M&Ms and hoping when you're done it looks like something," Nash said.

Nancy Havlick has bins with objects separated by color, but they're filled with sugar eggs. In an attempt to fuse her multicultural roots - English and Armenian - with her American upbringing, she decided to start her own tradition.

With the sugar eggs, Havlick creates "rugs." Make no mistake, they aren't to walk on.

The eggs are colored with a mixture of spices and foods often used in Armenia, including mahleb, sumac, almonds, apricots, paprika and rosebuds. She organizes them in decorative patterns on the floor.

"I'm deciding my own tradition. Rather than looking backwards, I'm forging ahead," Havlick said, laying one of the eggs in its position.

Havlick said she didn't recognize her obsession with making sugar eggs until she realized she has been doing it for a decade. But she has also realized another fixation: carving out an identity from her multiethnic past.

In her parents' generation, Havlick said, it was much more common to assimilate to the American culture rather than celebrate differences. "My mother wasn't cooking Armenian food. We were having hot dogs and hamburgers," she said.

The sugar eggs have become her own way of bridging the past to the future and "to control the chaotic feelings" of life, she said.

Many of the exhibitors wanted their art to express something about both the creation process and the result.

New York artist Jason Dean wanted to conquer bubble wrap after working for an animation company where he did a lot of packing. So he decided to make it an art project and see how much time it would take for him to pop the largest roll of bubble wrap he could find: 110 feet by 4 feet. It took about six hours.

That roll and other smaller ones are mounted on a wall of the exhibit like paper towels above a kitchen sink. There is also a video that features Dean's "popping spree."

"I kept thinking that they were a lot louder," he said. "It just sounded like fireworks and I kept thinking that someone is going to question this odd sound."

Joseph Trupia, another New York artist, used office supplies to make drawings called "What I can do in 40 hours" and "What I can do in 8 hours."

Another work in "OCD" shows 600 photographs of rear ends.

"It was kind of a silly thing to do at first and it became a document of the process of looking," said Boston artist Luke Walker of his gluteus photography.

Norfolk, Va., artist Jennifer Schmidt became fascinated with the repetition of filling in ovals on test score sheets.

"The idea of the artwork showing evidence of repeated activity is something we see in a lot of different forms," said Martha Buskirk, a fellow at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., and author of "The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art."

The clinical disorder is even more consuming, said Diane Davey, a registered nurse and program director of the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital in Belmont.

"Obsessive compulsive disorder is really defined as someone who has unwanted or disturbing intrusive thoughts and who engages in a set of behaviors that are meant to sort of neutralize the thought and help them to feel less anxious," Davey said.

Davey said an exhibit like "OCD" might help someone to question his or her own behavior and seek help if necessary.

On the Net:

Boston Center for the Arts: http://www.bcaonline.org/

OCD Exhibition: http://www.ocdexhibition.com