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Art People: Gina Siepel | installation artist

  • Gina Siepel works on an art piece at the APE gallery Monday morning. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Left, Gina Siepel and George Shapiro works on Siepel's  art piece at the APE gallery Monday morning. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Gina Siepel works on an art piece at the APE gallery Monday morning. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Last Monday, at the A.P.E. Gallery, Gina Siepel checked her numbers and said she was up to 2,943 feet. “We’ve added about 45 feet so far today,” she said.

The large windows face Northampton’s Main Street, allowing passers-by, even when the gallery is closed, to peer at the swirling arcs and curves of bent wood. Their expressions ask the question:

What is that?

It is “1 x 1,” an installation in progress by Siepel, 39, of Greenfield. The title refers to the 1-inch width of the Vermont ash strips that, in a straight line, would be close to 1 mile — 5,280 feet — long. But Siepel, who chose ash for its flexibility and strength, is bending and shaping and clamping and gluing the 12-foot pieces into one flowing, continuous creation that fills much of the gallery, floor to ceiling, front to back. Siepel describes the project as a three-dimensional drawing that uses techniques borrowed from traditional wooden boat-building, a craft she has practiced as part of an artistic odyssey that has included painting, drawing, sculpture and video.

For many years, Siepel says, painting was her main focus. After studying painting and drawing at SUNY Purchase, she migrated to New York City where she found work in theater, building and painting sets. “It opened a whole world,” she said. Having grown up in a house her parents largely built themselves in upstate New York, Siepel’s affinity for wood, she said, grew into a new outlet. She discovered that she relished the challenges of set design: How can we make that? Will it hold up? What are we going to make that out of? Siepel deals with those questions regularly in her “day job” working for the Department of Theater and Dance at Amherst College.

The idea for “1 x 1” came to her during a class in drawing and sculpture that she taught last summer, Siepel said. “I tend to get big ideas and to get really excited about them. And then the idea inevitably changes” as materials, space and other variables come into play. “I try to welcome that richness.”

Siepel bought her wood as rough-sawn boards from Forest Products Associates of Greenfield. She planed it, jointed it, cut it, planed it again, and cut all the scarf joints before bringing it to the gallery, where she began the installation July 1.

“In terms of the look of it and the shape, I only had a really rough idea” of what it would be, she said. Sometimes the wood won’t do what she has in mind, she said, and a few pieces have broken, necessitating changes along the way. She thinks about each bend and turn she wants the wood to make — “and sometimes I’m wrong,” she says.

Siepel said she has enjoyed creating “1 x 1” in a space that’s open to the public. “People have been coming in all along,” she said, and a few have even stayed to help out. “It’s an open social process and that’s been great.” Designer Kathy Couch created lighting that illuminates the wood curves and casts them as shadow lines on the white walls. “We wanted it to be dramatic at night,” Siepel said.

She’ll stop when she’d used about a mile of wood — or when she feels it’s finished. “I think I’ll probably get to a point where I’ll just call it, and say OK, this is going to be the stopping point. We’ll see.”

— Suzanne Wilson

“1 x 1” will be at A.P.E., 126 Main St., through July 27. Hours are Tuesdays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., Fridays until 8 p.m.

Video by Dawn Chapman for Northampton Community TV

You are so amazing!! We are very proud...we enjoy thinking and saying...we knew you WHEN!! Keep up this wonderful work, Gina!! Have a great summer. Love, Cliff and Valerie

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