It’s not instantly recognizable, and only moderately revealing. But there is some autobiography in Matthew Sontheimer’s Lux Center for the Arts exhibition “Adaptation.”
It comes in the form of a long rectangular strip covered with bright blue URLs that appear to have been lifted from a search bar, blown up in scale and put together. And that’s just what the piece is -- a collection of the links to the sites of everything that Sontheimer has looked at in the last four years on his work computer.
So there’s YouTube and links for galleries and the museums, like the Tate in London, typography searches and art supply connections -- exactly what would be expected from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln painting and drawing professor.
What he looked at, obviously, isn’t on the wall, nor is that important. For “Travelling Without Moving” captures not only Sontheimer’s internet surfing but vividly illustrates digital era life via seemingly unending lines of text that are more evocative than any image could possibly be.
In fact, text is the critical element in Sontheimer’s art, whether it's presented alone, in type or handwritten or with an image or two -- as is the case in the remainder of the works in the small but thought-provoking show.
Four of those pieces are titled “Esther McCoy Remix,” and they use lines and phrases from the author and architectural historian that, in three of the works, surround a tiny projected image of a pair of kids taken from the movie “The King of Marvin Gardens.”
The sentences and phrases, precisely annotated in the four-piece project that’s titled “Bibliography” are an exploration of the appearance and function of buildings -- created while Sontheimer was on an artist residency in Mexico and thinking about the architecture of the open buildings where he was living and working.
That little piece of information reveals something of the origin of the McCoy series. But it’s certainly not necessary for the work to resonate with its contrast between text and image and the meditation on architecture.
Two other pieces are literally paired -- “Miracle Ear” and “Study for Miracle Ear,” each of which finds an image of a girl sitting on a bus against text that is asking if someone has synthesia with the response of tinnitus, the persistent ringing in the ears.
What those have to do with each other isn’t obvious. Nor is the juxtaposition itself critical. Instead, the “Miracle Ear” pieces are perfect examples of Sontheimer’s work, which he says in his artist statement, is rooted in the third grade.
There he saw a teacher talking with a student who had turned in a single sheet of paper with weeks worth of homework assignments, including a drawn dump truck and hundreds of calculations, covering the surface.
“I never learned the outcome of the conversation or whether the teacher saw any validity in this student’s unusual presentation of his homework, and I never saw that sheet of paper again,” Sontheimer writes. “My work relates to completing the rest of the story lost in that moment. It is a continual conversation that uses both verbal and visual language to discuss and illustrate the endless field of questions and solutions daily crossing my consciousness.”
That sounds weighty and, if done with a heavy hand, could be offputting and dull. But, as illustrated by “Town & Country,” and the ”cola colored Clark Wallabies” shoe image that connects to the text, Sontheimer’s explorations are down-to-earth and witty as well as being original, insightful and thought provoking.