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Galleries: Making magic at Fountain Street Gallery

Melissa Shaak and Sylvia Vander Sluis contemplate the interplay of art and existence

Melissa Shaak, “Evidence."Melissa Shaak/Fountain Street Gallery

“We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?” Estragon asks Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s existentialist play “Waiting for Godot.” “Yes, yes,” says Vladimir, “we’re magicians.”

In “What We Make of This World” at Fountain Street Gallery, Melissa Shaak and Sylvia Vander Sluis examine the existential magic of making art.

Shaak, in performance videos, is like Vladimir and Estragon, a stand-in for us all. Often wearing a fedora and black jacket, she plumbs life’s mysteries, perhaps with more hope than Beckett.

In her two-channel video “Undercover,” Shaak, dressed only in the jacket and hat, appears to float in greenery. In fact, she’s supine, filmed from above, surrounded by ferns and shrubs. Throughout her work she uses a standard series of props, and here she obscures herself with one — a paper lantern — morphing into a caterpillar and crawling away.

Shaak’s “Evidence” installation includes a six-channel video full of spiraling movements. She spins in a red chair through a tunnel; she twirls on a beach with an inflatable globe. Often, the props show up on their own out in the world as lonely, heroic characters. The red chair, the globe, and more are assembled in the gallery, like life’s residue left in art’s net.


Sylvia Vander Sluis, “And Then It All Went Wrong."Sylvia Vander Sluis/Fountain Street Gallery

Vander Sluis assembles candy-colored sculptures from scraps of Styrofoam and plastic toys. She made much of this work during the pandemic while caring for her husband with dementia. Several architectonic pieces suggest a house folding in on itself, yet still holding bright memories. In “We Were,” a weight of tangled copper ribbons and plastic toys bears down on a roof’s slant. “And Then It All Went Wrong” is a messy, cakelike cube topped with colorful Easter eggs.

Things might go wrong, but they’re no less sweet.


In separate audioscapes by Katie Semro, the artists speak about the impetuses and satisfactions of their work. These aren’t simple monologues; Semro interleaves each artist’s reflections, collaging strands of thought together. Gaps open; meaning ripples and morphs.

“What We Make of This World” spirals like these audioscapes, finding rhymes and leaping over chasms. As we go on through life’s challenges and voids, maybe the only answer is to make magic.

WHAT WE MAKE OF THIS WORLD: Melissa Shaak + Sylvia Vander Sluis

At: Fountain Street Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through April 30. 857-302-3067, www.fsfaboston.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.