Dancing With What's Absent: 'what opens — like a blaze of fire' at St. Kate's

Dancing With What's Absent: 'what opens — like a blaze of fire' at St. Kate's

Published November 15th, 2021 by Sheila Regan

Spanning two galleries at The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, Charles Matson Lume's mixed media installations pair with a book of poems by Joyce Sutphen & Galilee Peaches


The two gallery rooms that make up what opens—like a blaze of fire, now on view at The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery at St. Catherine University, envelop visitors in mysterious plays of light and shadow. Presented in conjunction with an artist book, the project — created by visual artist Charles Matson Lume with poets Joyce Sutphen and Galilee Peaches — offers a sensorial experience of literature and art.  

In one room, ripe oranges are set amidst patterns of electric night lights and extension cords, atop a metallic sheet, with additional reflective rectangles adhered to the wall. The effect is ghostly, almost post-apocalyptic. The oranges glow in the lights, almost too perfect to eat, their vibrant color reflected on the foil below them. The installation looks a bit like a science experiment, one that is pristine and also somewhat foreboding.  


Charles Matson Lume's east gallery installation. Photo by the author.


In the other room, the more vibrant of the two, film sheets are layered on top of each other, propped up with a pattern of rocks that make them bulge and ripple. Lights from above reflect on the film paper and shine up at the ceiling and wall, creating a transfixing texture of light that harnesses different colors of the rainbow spectrum: yellows, blues, and oranges all created through the bending light.  

You can get lost in the sinews of light. Some of them look like elements of the body— is that muscle tissue? Is that a nipple there? Perhaps it’s blood flowing through the capillaries. The colors dance, creating a sense of movement that flickers ever so slightly.  


Detail view of Charles Matson Lume's west gallery installation. Photo courtesy of The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.


The artist book provides, if not context for the installations, perhaps content adjacent to them. It’s made of less than a dozen poems that slip in between photographs and designs that recall elements of the installation. The colorful rectangles on paper remind the viewer of the silvery rectangles on the wall in the gallery. There’s also a luminescence in a number of the photographs, as well as a sense of beauty mixed with desolation. The images and poems are couched in between blank pages that make up more than two thirds of the book. They seem to invite the reader to add their own thoughts and poems to its blank pages. Or, possibly, the blank pages are simply that: a silence that we wade in to allow the art to sift through eventually.  

The Former Poet Laureate of Minnesota, Joyce Sutphen, writes the first section of short poems. The poems hold their breath. They wait, bored and uneasy.  

“It didn’t last— that moment I wished for,” she writes in “That Moment.”  


I was always making the same mistake,


thinking I could slow down time or erase  

the changes it made in everything.  


An agitation, escalated by the isolation of the pandemic, reveals itself in her poems. In “Summer Days,” she writes: “Shall I compare them? To what?” The voice is exasperated, while at the same time open to observation and reflection.  

Light figures into poems by both Sutphen and Peaches. “…Notice how/ the light is never lost, how it lingers/in the darkest hour, how it changes and/ reflects and makes of time a little stay,” writes Sutphen.  

Meanwhile, Peaches also references the light in her description of a starling flock, in the poem “a cloud dreams like a mountain is radicalized in the light”:  


the murmuration throws itself against the screened sky  

sun-damaged, with browned edges

moving into a ground ultramarine  


The colors she references — later she writes of “violet streaks at the bottom of the bowl”— are echoed in the dancing colors of light in Lume’s installation.  

The books— while they last— are available for free. The best way to experience the poems is in the gallery, allowing the colors and the light and the hodgepodge of found objects to dance along with you in waiting. Waiting for the pandemic to end, maybe. Waiting for the spring to come. Waiting for something better, or simply waiting for the sake of waiting, as memories and emotions swirl and ebb and pass through you in the silent dark. ◼︎  


Detail view of Charles Matson Lume's east gallery installation. Photo by the author.


what opens— like a blaze of fire, is on view through December 12th at The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery at St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Ave, St. Paul. Gallery hours are Mon – Thurs 8am – 8pm, Fri 8am – 6pm, and Sat – Sun 12 – 6 pm.

There will be an artist talk Dec 2nd at 6:30 pm. Visit gallery.stkate.edu for more info, and please review their campus COVID policies before visiting. Visitors are required to wear a mask and observe posted capacity limits in the gallery.  

Banner image photo courtesy of The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.

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