Exhibits - Octagon Center for the Arts


Field Notes


May 11 - July 28, 2018


Growing up and living in Northwest Iowa, routes to and from different towns have been memorized and have only seemed to slightly change over the years.

The landscape has become the welcome constant in my daily life when driving place to place. But on many occasions, when the intention is to truly “see” the landscape (still often from the car window), beautiful, abstract things can be found that are not that far removed from what is truly there.

What do I look at? Shadows running down a ditch. Fence posts creating not only borders, but lines reaching up into a horizon. Corrugated metal siding on a building that has turned a warm rust orange. Wonderfully organized grove lines and plant rows whose placed structure en mass pulls away from its individual organic shape. The same routes, the same landscapes, viewed at different times of day and different times of year.

New to the body of work within the last few years has been the inclusion of a husband with a pilot’s license – allowing a new view of this landscape I thought I knew well. This new perspective on the area has opened up doors of new compositions, color possibilities, and most importantly, emphasized the style I usually employ in my paintings: organized, geometric lines and breakdown of the familiar landscape.

Though often ignored and occasionally referenced in conversation by local landmarks, this section of Iowa landscape is the classic subject matter I have chosen to employ in my work. Due to this focus, venturing from small town to small town usually lends itself more to research than travel.

Based on a True Story


May 18 - August 11, 2018


Sound is an important aspect of the world around us. It tells a great deal about our surroundings when we take the time to listen. Listening requires time to experience because sound requires time to exist. In today’s fast-paced culture, deeper levels of engagement have become increasingly rare. Add to this the common positioning of sound as a background element or object of distraction and what remains is little opportunity, inspiration, or perceived value in the act of listening to what’s available. People today focus on blocking out or covering up unwanted sound while at the same time, finding it difficult to both engage with and protect what quality soundscapes exist. Modern society is well practiced at protecting nature in visual and territorial ways to ensure high quality experiences with a variety of landscapes and vistas. Only recently have efforts begun to protect valuable soundscapes. The soundscape of a given environment can be an indicator of its status and vitality. Sound has the ability to communicate in a variety of ways and experiencing these stories provides insight into the value of protecting these spaces. If we are able to protect the natural soundscape, we will be able to help many other things along the way.

The goal of this exhibition is to provide a space for pause, for reflection, for a slowing down of focus. Each visit to the exhibition will be a unique experience because the audio works presented are not fixed compositions but are instead, composed as dynamic systems that respond to a variety of conditions. Works of sonic fiction based on naturesound recordings are presented as a way of both documenting the natural world and connecting with otherwise familiar sounds through a different means of interaction. Data of regional significance is presented as audio to create a listening experience designed using high-frequency data collected from sensors monitoring the quality of the natural world. Through installation-based performances of a naturesound archive and the sonification of environmental data, listeners can shift their attention to the natural world and reconnect to places that are differently familiar.

Sound has the ability to tell us a great deal. We just have to be willing to take the time to listen.

You can learn more about Alex Braidwood’s work by following him on Instagram @formalplay or by visiting his website www.listeninginstruments.com

Empty Dresses


May 25 - June 30, 2018


Empty Dresses as a concept was conceived half a lifetime ago while attending the estate auction of an early Swedish immigrant to the Midwest. Among the many hand crafted items from the latter half of the nineteenth century were two intricately and nearly identically embroidered, grayed with age, christening gowns that decades earlier were wrapped in brown paper and bound with string.  Many auction attendees commented how the handmade lace and frill represented a lost art and a few identified the embroidered flowers as symbols of hope, innocence and good fortune. No one commented on the fact that one of the gowns, nearly three feet in length, was tied into a knot.

This image never left and as time has passed, other dresses have inspired narratives that have been added to my mind’s eye gallery: the young girl’s exquisite Edwardian summer dress with grass stains down the length of the back carefully starched and preserved in a box, the 1870 calico dress with patches upon patches found in a bag of fabric once destined to be recycled into pieces for a quilt, and the 1960’s wedding dress stained with an unknown substance and with the right sleeve detached.

Rather than “the individual can make the dress”, “the dress can fashion the story” is the focus of commemorating and creating two-dimensional narratives based on the dress. Much more than an exclusive statement or expression, couture or style, dress is or has been a gauge of social standing and taste, a sustainer of emotional and physical stability or vulnerability, the outward expression of modesty or blatant sexuality, or used for the concealment or revelation of historic, cultural and ethnic identity. Dress can stimulate strong reactions and judgements or offer the ability to blend into the scenery, support individuality through the expression of craft, skill and creativity or acceptance of mass production and/or mediocrity.

The very assortment of materials from which dresses are fashioned; silk brocade to buckskin, patterned or plain, worn, torn and wrinkled or starched and crisp, as well as the potential to manipulate the form, offer great possibilities for the development of visual narratives through the rendering the dresses.

In the summer of 2016, the 125-year-old “work of art” became the muse for the translation of the knotted Christening gown to a two-dimensional rendering in sterling silver metal point on board entitled Not and Empty Dresses commenced. Empty Dresses has developed into three thematic series; Childhood Lost illustrating children’s dresses and experiences done in charcoal, colored pencils, pastels, graphite and watercolor, Handled a series depicting the hand engaged with dress and executed primarily in colored pencil and water color and Historic Media exploring women in history as represented by their dress rendered in egg tempera, metal point, encaustic, handmade inks and charcoals (supported in part by the Iowa Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts).

The breadth of subject matter spurred by the many facets of dress and the dramatic effects of dress as a vacant vessel leave me to believe that Empty Dresses will expand into a multitude of series and continue to inspire.

Gallery Hours

Community Gallery, First Floor

Monday - Friday 10am - 5:30pm  |  Thursday 10am - 7pm  |  Saturday 10am - 5pm  |  Sunday Closed

Sweeney & Main Galleries, Third Floor

Monday - Friday 10am - 5pm  |  Saturday 1 - 5pm  |  Sunday Closed




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