Put the pieces together at '35 Pieces'

NORTH ADAMS — What do you do with a newspaper after you've (hopefully) read it? If you toss it in a recycling bin, you may be helping an artist somewhere build a career.

Steven Siegel has used recycled materials, such as newspapers, to make public sculptures in the U.S. and Europe for decades. But the Hampshire College graduate's latest project, an exhibit called "35 Pieces" at CYNTHIA-REEVES on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's campus, features some old print copy indoors, enclosed in mixed-media panels hanging on the gallery's walls and documented in a short film surveying the panels. While Siegel has stacked 30,000 pounds worth of newspapers in outdoor installations before, this project required the artist to work with far less than that; in many of the panels, he bunched together inch-long strips of newspapers with glue and staples in a manner that resembles rock layers and thus conveys the work's focus on nature and history.

"Just through the natural limitations of the material, you end up with a lot of these different formations," Siegel said while browsing the gallery on a recent Thursday afternoon. "It's like geology because that's the way the stuff came down the mountain, and that was the most efficient way for me — or nature — to organize it, to deal with it."

The panels also contain Popsicle sticks, an outline of Donald Trump's countenance and various photographs, such as a shot of Siegel's wife, Alice, who narrates the approximately nine-minute film that is played on a loop in the gallery. Music by acclaimed banjoist Bela Fleck and others accompanies her voice.

It took Siegel about a year to write the script, a narrative that examines both his life and natural history while providing close-ups of the panels on the surrounding walls. It begins with a compelling hook (promising to explain an encounter with a bear) and incorporates humor throughout (sample: "Have you read 'War and Peace?' You say you have, but lying doesn't become you.")

At about the halfway mark, Alice describes a cemetery in central Prague as images of stacked graves fill the screen.

"Each stone tells another story," she says.

Following this moment, photos of Siegel's installations appear, depicting newspapers in natural settings.

"I wonder, if you buried a whole bunch of stories and pictures in the landscape, would that be similar somehow?" Alice asks, referencing the Prague images. "Is the history told in a newspaper as valued as the history in a grave or in ashes?"

The film allows Siegel to demonstrate the panels' interconnection and his geological focus without having to assemble the grid of all 35 pieces together in an exhibit. Visitors can sit in front of a monitor near the front of the gallery to view the video.

An overview of all 35 pieces placed together occupies an adjacent wall to the monitor showing his film. But viewing each panel individually has its benefits, including forcing visitors to have to think like geologists.

"They get these bits and pieces, and they see that piece, and then they see that piece, and then they say, 'Wait a minute, that's the same rock. How could they have been connected?'" Siegel said. "That's what this is all about."


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