Brattleboro native Aaron Distler brings work from fellow London artists to his hometown for ‘Three Cases and a Carry-On’ exhibit at Dianich Gallery

Thursday December 20, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Aaron Distler will arrive home for the holidays with a toothbrush, a change of clothes and a small revolution in his suitcase.

The London-based artist and Brattleboro native returns home this week toting an entire art show with him. Featuring new works by the 15 artists of the Chelsea Collective, the exhibit, titled "Three Cases and a Carry-On," opens Friday with a reception from 3 to 7 p.m., at the Catherine Dianich Gallery in the Hooker-Dunham Building at 139 Main St. It remains on view through Dec. 29, when Distler will pack it all up again.

The name of the exhibit came from the practical realities of trying to get an art show across the Atlantic Ocean by plane. Distler asked his fellow Chelsea Collective Artists to provide work which could fit in the three suitcases and carry-on bag the airline allows him to have.

And while it may a stretch to call the exhibit a "revolution," there is something rebellious in the show and in the eagerness members of the Collective showed in answering Distler’s call.

"Everyone took to the idea right away. The idea of distilling an entire exhibition into a few suitcases was appealing in its simplicity and humility," wrote Distler in an e-mail exchange from London. "Many exhibitions that show work of artists from distant places tend to be complicated and expensive affairs. ... The expense of the endeavor tends to limit the kind of work seen, as artists showing prefer to show relatively polished and major pieces to justify the expense."

Now, here comes the rebellion: "This show is an opportunity to take a risk and do something more casual, allowing us the opportunity to show evolving ideas, sketches and explorations that are in process; smaller pieces which don’t presume to sum up what we do as artists. I think this has the potential to be a refreshing and more revealing experience than the usual show that might cross the Atlantic."

The members of the Chelsea Collective met a few years ago in a post-grad art program at London’s Chelsea College of Art & Design. They decided to form the Collective in the hopes of sustaining the creative collaboration and support they found in each other at the college.

"It’s important because we’re friends. College was a very intense experience, and so we became like a family," wrote a Collective artist who identified himself only as Ian. "I don’t know that we’ve really influenced each other directly. We’ve just grown up next to each other."

Distler and fellow Chelsea student Will Teather spearheaded the group and developed the idea of having each artist in the Collective curate a show of work and bring it to their hometowns.

"The hope is to see the exhibition tour across unusual locations across the world, building an international track record for the artists involved and bringing cutting-edge art to communities that lie outside urban centers," said Teather, via e-mail.

The inaugural show was earlier this year in Norwich, England. Brattleboro is the second exhibit.

What Brattleboro exhibit-goers will see is a diverse exhibit from artists from many cultures -- the Collective has seven members from England, two from the U.S., two from Portugal and one each from Italy, Poland, Korea and China -- working in many styles and media.

"Three Cases and a Carry-On" will feature a range of work from figurative acrylic paintings to abstract oil paintings to sculptures of found objects to video work. One artist is showing mechanically animated cardboard boxes.

Teather introduces us to "The Remarkable Disappearing Maudeline Spacks" (her story can be found at

Jo Race explores the serendipitous in her "Unintended Sculpture" photo series. "Much of my work involves the photographic documentation of unsung creativity: sculptural forms and aesthetic displays that have a sense of individual expression and reveal artistic sensibilities. I often find these artworks in antique arcades, junk shops, car boot sales and charity shops," Race wrote.

Distler’s own work includes a series of abstract wood carvings found from bits of wood pulled from old shipping palettes and a wall hanging piece that is his first exploration using a laser cutter.

"I draw on Brattleboro constantly in my work, and its positive spirit flows through much of what I do," said Distler, who left the U.S. 10 years ago, lived in Rome for six years and then moved to London. "My love of wood and wood carving and beyond that of all things tactile and sculptural, comes from the unique alchemy of mountain, rivers, forest that is Brattleboro. I continue to have a deep affection for the town and am happy to think that it will always be part of my life. I couldn’t be more excited to be able to bring something of who I am outside of town back to town to share with the people and place that means so much to me."

Some of that affection for Brattleboro has rubbed off on his fellow Collective members.

"I am really excited about being in the exhibition in Vermont with our collective -- the only problem is not being able to see the exhibition in person," wrote Race.

"I like the sound of the Strolling of the Heifers. It sounds like a nice tradition, a type of living sculpture. In the UK, traditions only get to be by royal appointment," added Ian.

After Brattleboro, exhibits by the Chelsea Collective are slated to take place in Lisbon, London, Chicago, San Francisco and Seoul, South Korea, as well as a few less-urban settings in keeping with the Collective’s stated goal "to go against the trend of geographic homogenization, of emerging artists’ work being mainly experienced in urban centers. We believe that where and how art is seen should be dictated by more then just the market pull of the cities, a pull which denies broader cultural stimulation to those in other places and also denies the artist the opportunity to engage directly with the people and places that have played an important formative part in their life and work."

Each exhibit will feature new work, as a way to stimulate continued collaboration and dialogue among members of The Collective. One member is contemplating making the exhibit he curates a group performance piece.

Distler will be on hand at Friday’s opening reception from 3 to 7 p.m. The exhibit will be open for viewing from 1 to 4 p.m., from Dec. 22-28 (closed Christmas) and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 29. It can also be seen by appointment at other times by calling Distler at 802-254-9595.


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