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If you go
What: “New Media Exploration” exhibit featuring Michael Dinges, Dennis Lee Mitchell, Brett Freund and Alessandro Bavari
When: Opening reception 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday; exhibit ends Feb. 26
Where: John P. Weatherhead Gallery, Rolland Center for Art and Visual Communication, University of Saint Francis, 2701 Spring St.
Admission: Free; call 399-7999 or go to for more information and gallery hours
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
With a deft hand, a Dremel tool and an appreciation for scrimshaw, Michael Dinges transforms a laptop into “Ouija Board.”

Plastic junk becomes art in Saint Francis’ new media exhibit

“Cabinet of Curiosities” is part of Dinges’ “Dead Laptop Series.”
Justin Johnson, left, and Ryan Bredlau carry part of “Lifeboat: The Wreck of the Invisible Hand.”

The expression “One man’s trash is another’s man treasure” is pretty well-known, but “One man’s dead laptop is another man’s canvas,” not so much.

Artist Michael Dinges uses such items as part of his unconventional plastic art pieces that include intricately engraved laptops, buckets, a yard chair, a coffee maker and a life-size lifeboat made of vinyl siding that took 18 months to create.

His artwork, which documents the social and environmental impact on human beings, will be just one part of a unique collaboration for the “New Media Exploration” exhibit Saturday at the Weatherhead Gallery on the University of Saint Francis campus.

“A major component of our material world is plastic, and it’s nasty stuff. I really don’t like working with the thing that I actually spend a lot of my time working on,” he says, laughing. “We have to confront this stuff; otherwise, it’s kind of sneaking up on us.”

Along with Dinges’ creations, the gallery will display the work of three respected artists who also are exploring unique media: Dennis Lee Mitchell, who creates drawings by applying smoke to paper; Brett Freund, who uses a staining technique on geometric, yet functional, ceramic pieces; and Italian artist Alessandro Bavari, whose digital image and multimedia animation pieces, “Metachaos” and “Tryptichon,” will be viewed in the Goldfish Gallery.

With five art galleries on the main campus, gallery director Justin Johnson says the university’s School of Creative Arts offers an extensive exhibition program that showcases contemporary and traditional artworks annually.

“We have usually a half-dozen unique exhibitions, apart from our traditional yearly exhibits, that we curate nationally and internationally. I’m very familiar with these four artists, and they all complement each other very well,” he says.

“Specific to this exhibit, what the local public can see – from our students to the community – are four artists who turn the table on specific mediums and use them in nonconventional ways.”

This exhibit will feature more than 50 pieces that showcase the decades of experience that all four artists have, Johnson says.

Bavari’s 2011 “Metachaos” received several awards, including the Golden Nica at Austria’s Prix Ars Electronica, joining the likes of the animation studio Pixar, which was honored at the competition event in 1987.

Freund was honored as an emerging artist by Ceramics Monthly in 2012.

All four artists have been featured in exhibitions nationally or abroad.

“These artists are just at the top of their game in terms of quality of the work represented,” Johnson says. “My hope is that the audience is able to see the wide variety available internationally, and for this international work to come to Fort Wayne is very unique.”

Dinges has adapted the art of scrimshaw by using a Dremel tool to engrave plastic products in the same way sailors engraved the teeth, bones and tusks of whales and walruses during their idle time at sea.

Inspired by globalization as a graduate art student at the University of Chicago from 2003 to 2005, Dinges wanted to document the expansion of the global market and how it changed the human perception of society.

“When I began to think about the history of worldwide trade, I was thinking of earlier times, and what struck me was sailors’ scrimshaw,” he says. “It was kind of a way for you to contemplate in your downtime what you were doing. My practice is all about taking time to meditate and think about the changes that we’re going through.

“Sailors were working on the byproduct of the industrial process of whaling. I was thinking about plastic because it is sort of reminiscent of ivory in its color and texture, and it’s also kind of ubiquitous of our culture, too.”

He’s also inspired by engraved brass shells, trench art created by soldiers during wartime, and schoolgirls’ embroidered sampler books from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Dinges’ “Dead Laptop Series” includes a piece titled “Sampler,” an Apple MacBook on which Dinges engraved a simple poem:

“In my prime, I was your treasure chest with buried secrets in my breast. You ran me ragged around the world and now I’m dead and put to rest.”

He also included accents typical of samplers, such as the alphabet and representations of nature.

“I have a household of Apple things. They are astonishing inventions. They are the definition of innovation, but they also flatter us,” Dinges says.

“The very meaning of its flattery is potentially empty and inconsequential, and it’s a distraction while it’s informing itself on our lives in many different ways. There’s global access, but there’s also surveillance.”

Dinges says that, as with every exhibition, he is looking forward to the response his straightforward pieces will elicit. He says he enjoys watching people slow down as they pass his work and, usually, stop to take a closer look at the maze of monologues each piece contains.

He says it is obvious that he has a point of view; he wants his work to help viewers develop their own.

“Whatever your political stripe is, you have to ask questions, and you have to pay attention on what’s going on,” he says. “We are so materially rich in this country, but that comes at a price.

“We don’t make as much stuff as we used to, but somebody is. We are not always aware of the conditions those people are working under, and I think it’s important to ask those questions. We kind of should be in this thing together. We should be mindful of that.”