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Live Active Cultures

Seth gallery-hops and puddle-jumps on Third Thursday at CityArts Factory

In retrospect, I should have seen the storm as a sign. Watching four-foot swells pound the shores of Lake Eola; feeling my featherweight Honda Fit nearly take flight in an umbrella-inverting gust of wind; seeing the city’s signature swans sailing through the swirling air like errant Angry Birds – a sensible person would take these premonitions as permission to pack it in and head home. But I was determined not to miss another Third Thursday, come hell or (quite literally) high water.

I’ve covered downtown’s monthly art crawl numerous times over the course of this column. But I haven’t written about it since before Barbara Hartley took over for Shanon Larimer as executive director of the Downtown Arts District, organizers of the long-running event. So I waited for a slackening in the deluge, slapped the Orlando Sentinel real estate section over my head (hey, it has to be good for something) and awkwardly puddle-jumped my way to the shelter of CityArts Factory.

First stop inside was the Orlando Magic Gallery, home to this year’s Red Chair Project art chairs. Once again, dozens of arts groups donated uniquely decorated midget IKEA chairs, which will be auctioned to support Red Chair’s ticket-selling website and other activities. I stage-managed the annual Red Chair Affairgala at the Bob Carr for several years, so I should be intimately familiar with the organization, but I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know the origin of the red chair iconography, nor understand the exact purpose of the event. And while I feel petty critiquing something crafted to benefit a benevolent cause, I was struck by how many of this year’s chairs looked like commercial billboards bereft of artistic effort. In years past I was always impressed by how creative donors got in assembling and adorning the chairs to reflect their organization’s spirit. (Doug Rhodehamel’s robotic rover for the Orlando Science Center some years back comes to mind.) There were a few chairs in that category this year – a detailed dollhouse from Central Florida Top 5, a cookware collage from Tupperware, Geoffry Sprague’s cartoonish cat sculpture for the Seminole Cultural Arts Council – but I was surprised how many were simply seats with advertisements for the group’s upcoming season slapped on. It’s inspiring that so many people want to help Red Chair raise money, but I’d like to see the chairs treated as more than mere advertising.

My next visit was across the hall to Alterverse, Jessica Singleton’s collection of visually arresting faux-vintage photographs. Singleton’s steampunk aesthetic was apparent in the letterpress relief-printing process used to create one ancient-looking image, while others were digitally manipulated into hallucinatory alternative-color universes. A haunting picture of Big Ben framed by an apocalyptic orange sky was emblematic of Alterverse’s unsettling imagery.

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