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Taking the Strange Out of Strangers

Gallery 5 show: finding connections in differences

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In the slideshow above, Kaylee Dombrowski and Katherine Otlowski talk about their exhibition Ties Among Us at Gallery 5. Photos and slideshow by Kimberly Cornuelle

There’s an extra seat in the latest Gallery 5 exhibition—a bench open for any visitor to sit and reflect on the art on the walls, next to a four-foot-tall sculpture of a homeless woman named Mary. Mary wears a hat, several layers of clothing, and a well-used quilt; her feet don’t touch the ground.

Created by Kaylee Dombrowski (CFA’11), Mary stares at the swirls of red and blue oils on canvases painted by Katherine Otlowski (CFA’11), as well as at sculptures of cancer patients and amputees, all of it part of their exhibition Zwiazek Miedzy Nami, Polish for Ties Among Us. The two artists, who met during their freshman year, live together and work in studios on the fifth floor of the College of Fine Arts. Their Gallery 5 exhibition runs through February 18, with an opening reception today, February 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.

“The logic behind the title can be applied to any exhibit,” says Otlowski, who like Dombrowski has a Polish heritage. “But it’s how a stranger can make a sculpture, paint a painting, and yet there is someone or a group of people who never met the person who made the artwork, but find a way to relate to it.”

“My work is about people’s connections, and human nature,” Dombrowski says. “I focus on individuals who have differences that you’re drawn to, but the idea that you see people on the street and wanting to stare, but not wanting to stare for humanity’s sake. The work is life-sized, the people are in your space, and you get to look.”

Seven ceramic busts of women stare from the wall, each with a different word: strength, hope, laughter, faith, and courage. The wigs and headscarves on the chemotherapy sculptures were donated by the American Cancer Society; Dombrowski made them in honor of her grandmother, who recently died from cancer.

“These could be people you know, or once knew,” she says.

Even though the two artists live together and both are in the school of visual arts, their study rarely intersects. Their CFA studios are close to each other, but are physically separated by the Gallery 5 space.

“It’s nice having someone who knows my work, knows what I’m trying to get at,” says Dombrowski. “And who I can talk to and not worry that their suggestions are arbitrary to what I wanted.”

And from Otlowski: “I’m notorious for painting over my paintings. But there’s work that she’ll see and say, ‘Keep it, and work with what you have.’ And I’m glad I did, because it turns into a successful painting.”

Zwiazek Miedzy Nami: Ties Among Us opens today, February 8, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m., and runs through Friday, February 18, at CFA’s Gallery 5, 855 Commonwealth Ave., fifth floor. The event is free and open to the public. Gallery 5, a student exhibition space near the emerging artists’ studios, where they can plan, propose, and install professional-quality exhibitions, is open during regular building hours.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kcornuel.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Taking the Strange Out of Strangers

  • Lisa T on 02.08.2011 at 12:27 pm

    YAY! Kath, you are too cute.

  • Lena on 02.08.2011 at 10:11 pm

    I’ve been admiring this exhibit since it first went up- it’s so thoughtful I love it :)

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