"A Wished for and Welcome Guest" at Co-Lab Projects

The gallery has a new home, where it aims to make you feel like "A Wished for and Welcome Guest"

The message is as simple and direct as it gets, spelled out in cherry-red letters on a white background: WELCOME.

Whether or not Rebecca Marino meant her fiber-arts take on the traditional doormat to evoke a strong emotional response I can't say, but because of where it is and when, this contribution to Co-Lab Projects' current group show moved me more than the homespun greeting on the front porch usually does. For one thing, it lies at the entrance of Co-Lab Projects' latest gallery space, its fifth in 13 years. That by itself is a testament to the persistence of this artist-run organization, which has taken over one space after another – most of them raw and unsuited to showing art – and built them into spaces where it could exhibit some of the most innovative work being done in the city. And every time circumstances forced it to move out, Co-Lab kept going. So now, here it is again, in arguably its rawest and least art-friendly space to date – a handful of huge concrete culverts set end to end in a vacant lot – opening itself to us and saying through Marino's piece, "We're glad you're here. Come in and see what we've done this time and what we have to show you."

After a year when so many cultural entities have been laid low by the financial pressures of the pandemic, when too many spaces will never open again, having one not only survive but create a new space in the unlikeliest of situations and cheerfully invite us into it is a thing of beauty. It restores faith in the ability of artists and in this arts community to endure, to get through even a year of disease and suffering and fear and isolation.

And building on that sense of this past year, the message in Marino's piece seems to extend to us, the viewers, the people who have been unable to go into museums and galleries to see art in person for months. It's as if the doormat recognizes that separation and is saying, on behalf of all the artists exhibited in this show – and maybe all the artists and galleries and museums in town – "Welcome back! We've missed you." At least, that's how it came across to me. I truly felt I was, as the exhibition title has it, "A Wished for and Welcome Guest."

To be clear, I did look at the rest of the art in the show, even if my writing here doesn't reflect that. And the experience was somewhere between pleasure and wonder: pleasure in viewing both the larger sculptural work set around the lot that constitutes Co-Lab's new home and the smaller work displayed within the culvert gallery; wonder at that culvert gallery itself. The idea that a few of these massive concrete boxes could be shoved together to form a boxcar-sized room that could be wired for lights and have art hung inside is incredible, and yet here it is, with ramps on both ends that visitors can walk on when the gallery's open and that can be raised like drawbridge gates to seal it when it closes. (Co-Lab co-founder and Executive Director Sean Gaulager's account of making these drawbridge doors fit will make you think twice before undertaking a project like that yourself – and appreciate them as works of art in their own right.)

Still, it was the doormat that set the tone of this exhibit for me. Looking like a birthday cake with bright, rosy icing, it appeared to have something to celebrate – and it did. Here was Co-Lab, still here after the COVID year, still here after 13 years, pulling together a new space one more time, pulling together the old gang one more time (Co-Lab co-founder and curator Leslie Moody Castro invited 21 artists who had previously shown with Co-Lab to contribute to this show). "A Wished for and Welcome Guest" celebrates Co-Lab's victories, welcoming a new home, welcoming spring, welcoming us.

"A Wished for and Welcome Guest"

Co-Lab Projects @ Glissman Road, 5419 Glissman
Through May 22

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