The concept for the new show at the Contemporary Arts Center is cerebral in the extreme. Called The Garden of Forking Paths, the show’s title is based on the short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges, first published in 1941. In it, Borges created a narrative that could be interpreted in any number of ways (in retrospect, Borges’ story foreshadowed our use of hypertext links on the Internet). It is also the conceptual genesis for the CAC’s featured collaboration by three emerging artists from Philadelphia: Katie Baldwin, Katie Murken, and Nichola Kinch. The link to Borges’ experimental writing is apt (and apt to give you an aneurysm). Warning: Try not to overthink it, just enjoy.
In The Garden of Forking Paths, the artistic trio creates a hypertext network of linked visuals rather than words. The show prompts you to chase a shifting, elusive narrative line of your own creation, and this subjective, unanchored experience can delight or confound you (hence the “forking paths” metaphor).
Baldwin and Murken both are trained book artists and printmakers who earned their MFAs at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Kinch, whose work is predominantly sculptural mixed media, earned her degree from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Pennsylvania. All three teach at the university level and have numerous exhibitions and awards between them. The Garden of Forking Paths is their most recent collaboration, though they have worked together on previous installations. It is our good fortune to see their shared dialogue in three dimensions at the CAC.
To prepare for this show, the trio got together to discuss the overall concept exemplified by Borges’ short story, and further focus on how all things in life have built-in contradictions that are often impossible to reconcile. This led to deliberation among the artists on “spatially constructed tensions.” The result is a cohesive installation of sculpture, photography, drawing and mixed media in the CAC gallery through which the visitor can navigate. The Garden of Forking Paths explores how these three artists respond to the multitude of possibilities of constructed space, and how, when actualized, that space evokes harmony and/or dissonance. The exhibition is deftly cobbled together to create an experience akin to stumbling through fragments of dreams and memories—whether singular or shared.