Clint Baclawski’s installation Bound/ary at Room 68 is a welcome reprieve of light and color on a blustery winter day in Provincetown. The installation consists of a folding screen where a billboard-size photograph of Nopal cacti stretches across 30 LED tubes affixed vertically to six panels. Existing as both sculpture and photograph, the piece evades easy categorization.
“The work is reminiscent of advertising,” says the Boston-based artist. Baclawski received his B.F.A. in advertising photography from Rochester Institute of Technology but didn’t join his peers heading to New York to work in the industry. “I majored in it but knew in my heart I wasn’t going to be an ad photo person,” he says. Instead, he entered an M.F.A. program in photography at Mass. College of Art and Design.
“I’ve always done things a bit against the grain,” he says. His work both approaches and repudiates advertising. “The landscape, the natural setting, is the furthest removed someone could get from advertising, which is why I chose this as the subject for the photograph,” Baclawski says.
“It’s a harsh image,” he continues. He shot the sun-drenched cacti on a 4×5 film camera at Morro Rock in California. “They were growing a fence or border,” Baclawski explains.
In its fragmented form, the photograph veers in and out of abstraction — a mosaic of interlocking shapes of light and shadow, figure and ground. But specific details, such as orange buds or letters incised on the cacti’s surface, stand out sharply.
The sculpture seems to undulate rhythmically. Light is both image and form in this piece. The LED bulbs cast the image of the photograph onto the glossy surface of the khaki and peach-colored acrylic panels, achieving Baclawski’s desire for “beautiful tonalities between the bulbs.”
Baclawski has been creating these photo sculptures since 2014. For the installation at Room 68, he printed slices of the photo on inkjet backlight film, which he then carefully slipped into tube guards encasing six-foot LED lights. He used a CNC router to cut holes in the façade of the screen, so wires and electrical sockets would be snugly fit.
“So much research went into how it was going to be displayed,” he explains. Using a grant from the Mass. Cultural Council, he produced the piece over several months in the fall of 2021.
Baclawski was initially inspired by the use of folding screens in Chinese culture. “A folding screen was designed to be a barricade,” he says. His own piece both depicts a boundary and acts as one. “Historically, it was used in ceremonies to shield the emperor from commoners. They would have pictures of landscapes on the front. The backside was blank. What did the emperor have to look at? My mind went with that.”
Baclawski’s piece is also blank on the back, and he hopes viewers will “move around the piece and see it from various angles,” allowing “the reflective surface to pull the image back together.” It’s an installation bristling with contradiction: the prickly imagery is bathed in welcoming, warm colors and the form both entices and sets apart the viewer.
Baclawski started visiting Provincetown in 2009, when he had an annual job photographing artwork at the Fine Arts Work Center. “I fell in love with P’town,” he says. The first piece he made inspired by the place was a modestly scaled photo sculpture of a dune shack, mounted on sky-blue plexiglass.
Currently on display at Room 68 is a circular image of the fishing vessel Artemis stranded at the breakwater in Provincetown in 2018. The hulking red boat leans over in the photo, the LED bulbs fracturing the image and underscoring the instability of the vessel. “I thought the circular motif was reminiscent of the oval-shaped windows on the ship,” Baclawski says.
Baclawski says that “the biggest reward for me is to transform the once-photograph into a sculptural object.” In a world inundated with photography, his artwork allows viewers to experience the medium anew, replacing easy consumption with something more complicated and physical.’
Leaps and Bounds
The event: Bound/ary, an installation by Clint Baclawski
The time: Friday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; through March
The place: Room 68, 377 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free