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Mark Zirpel
at Bullseye Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer


Mark Zirpel, 'Gimble Unit,' 2010, kilnformed and enameled glass, mixed media, 83 x 72 x 54 1/2'

Continuing through March 26, 2011

In "Queries in Glass" Seattle-based sculptor and installation artist Mark Zirpel fills an expansive, warehouse-like upper gallery with a virtuoso reimagining of Victorian-era pseudo science. From the miniature zeppelin entitled "Airship," the revolving planetary spheres of "Gimble Unit," the ceiling-mounted tightwire act called "Flying Cochlea," and on to the elegant hanging vitrines of "Rain Organ," Zirpel displays wild flights of invention marked by dueling thematic undercurrents like geeked-out sci-fi glee and dystopic foreboding. The rusted gears, rods and hodgepodge construction of the works lend an antiquarian flavor evocative of Victoriana or its contemporary heir, the Steampunk subculture.

Despite their intricacy and kineticism, the objects' ostensible purposes remain inscrutable. The enormous glass ball in "Bird Transducer" incorporates recorded birdsong, a carved wood bird, a pool of water, a glass horn, and a vivid green waveform monitor - all acting in Rube Goldberg-like concert to project astonishing patterns inside the glass sphere. It is an H.G. Wells-like amalgamation of optics, sonics, ornithology and mechanics, all serving an unknown esoteric aim. Impeccably executed in kiln-formed and blown glass as well as a panoply of other media, Zirpel's bizarre creations are difficult to fathom and impossible to forget.

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