At H&R Block Artspace, Students Help A New York Artist Map An Alternate Kansas City Reality

Jan 26, 2018

"I'm coming back as a minimalist in my next life," Dannielle Tegeder says. She offers a short, self-effacing chuckle and adds, "I can't wait."

She's talking to an invited group of 20 people previewing her new exhibition at H&R Block Artspace. The title, at least, is a mouthful: "Chroma Machina Suite: Forecasting Fault Lines in the Cosmos." And the show, slated to last into March, comes with an intimidating schedule of programs. There will be meditation. There will be dancing.

Still, what's prompted the New York artist's wry assessment is obvious to everyone standing in the gallery's high-ceilinged front room, where three walls hold (but don't necessarily contain) the large work on which the show is centered.

Over white and gray that suggest a minimalist streak in this life, Tegeder, assisted by 14 students at the Kansas City Art Institute, offers something pretty maximal: a grid-resistant geometry of long narrow lines and multi-cornered trapezoids, punctuated by hives of tiny triangles (chrysalises, Tegeder calls these) that pulse with implied dimension.

The palette hints at primary colors but stays mostly earthbound, like a rainbow reflected in a puddle. Picture an enormous subway map that shows you routes and possible destinations but doesn't tell you where you are or where you'll be when you disembark.

"I'm very interested in architecture as well as in geography," Tegeder says later, in an interview. "I'm interested in fictional, utopian places, in building something that's not there."

Tegeder, who is in her early 40s, was born in upstate New York and has taught or visited or showed in spaces all over America but says she thrives in her current studio's unlikely location: touristy, eyeball-scalding Times Square.

"Cities and systems inform what I'm making," she says. "Pedestrian traffic, tunnels, trains — invisible systems that connect us in different ways. When I come to more bucolic locations" — she gestures around her to indicate Kansas City's relatively soft urbanness — "I don't get any work done at first. I have to leave the lights on for a week."

In the first floor's gallery, some of the big walls' most vivid shapes and colors are an array of small squares that looks like a control panel.

Ellen Weitkamp, a junior at the Art Institute studying painting and art history (and an Artspace intern), handled this part of the project. Like the other students helping to realize Tegeder's walls, she worked full days the week of January 15 in a collective burst.

Danniele Tegeder (center, facing away from camera) with Kansas City Art Institute students during the installation of 'Chroma Machine Suite: Forecasting Fault Lines in the Cosmos.'

"She would come in and describe something to you that she wanted: a shape and a color and a spot," Weitkamp says of Tegeder (who's an associate professor of art at City University of New York's Lehman College). "But after that, it was up to each person's perception. I expected her to say, 'I want this angle different,' but for most everything we did, she went with it."

"When I first started," says Lauren Whitacre, also a junior, "I just kept going up and down [a ladder] and asking her, Is this OK? Is this OK? Is this OK? I was afraid of doing too much that wasn't in her aesthetic."

But Whitacre found Tegeder's teaching style accessible and eventually relaxed.

"Everyone worked hard, and everyone worked together. And now Danielle follows us on Instagram and is keeping connected with everyone."

The group's labors are on view in hypnotic time-lapse footage screened in the Artspace's upstairs study room, and each has contributed art to a mini-show, "In Collaboration With," curated by students Paige Edson, Julia Monte and Isabel Vargason, on display alongside the video.

Across the hall from that upstairs room are earlier works by Tegeder, including some large canvases that suggest other imaginary maps, and animations she's made with the composer Matthew Evan Taylor.

"I think about what's behind the wall," Tegeder says. "I think of all these invisible systems around us and how to make them visual. I'm not interested in expressing an emotional or a figurative or a narrative experience. It is more about abstracting large amounts of information."

On the far-west wall of the downstairs gallery space, a more recent film plays on a loop, this one a stop-motion depiction of stained-glass shapes multiplying and disappearing again, over the sound of delicate surfaces making quick contact. Staring at the screen awhile is like witnessing the awkward reunion of a large family descended from kaleidoscopes.

It serves as a backdrop for what Tegeder calls her "deconstructed paintings," which gain striking color from similar glass and Plexiglas. Here, the cartographical geometry of the front room becomes tangible. Marble slabs and circular Plexiglas panes and metal rods (mostly from area businesses such as Zahner/Metalabs and Carthage Stoneworks) are arranged together against walls and on the ground, freed from 2-D confinement.

"You're confused, but in a good way, between two different kinds of space," says Tegeder, who underscores this perplexity by giving her works droll and maximally verbal titles that push the literal up against the fantastic.

"I have a whole side practice of experimental writing and poetry," she says. "And I'm very interested in the idea of translation. I'm interested in that idea of how you almost move into a very different space in your mind when you speak another language. In the art, it's when you translate something from painting into music and then into sculpture and then into animation."

And then into movement.

For the first time, Tegeder has commissioned choreography to go with her visual art, hiring Kansas City theater and movement artist Jane Gotch (with dancer Karen Lisondra also on the bill) for three interpretive programs.

"When I chose to be an artist, I didn't want a rote life, a safe life," Tegeder says. "So each show is about putting myself in an uncomfortable, unknown space."

This time, that means choreography.

Chroma Machine Suite: Forecasting Fault Lines in the Cosmos, through March 17 at H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, 16 East 43rd Street, 816-561-5563.

Scott Wilson is a writer and editor in Kansas City. Contact him at editorscottwilson@gmail.com.