"Inner Workings," a solo exhibition of pieces by HOTTEA (Eric Rieger) at Le Meridien Chambers Burnet Gallery, marks a more introspective approach for the artist, whose career over the years has gone from graffiti to yarn bombing. His projects have included grandiose spectacle, such as last year's 84-miles of yarn hung from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' ceiling at Northern Spark.
In his latest body of work, HOTTEA draws inspiration from his family, his heritage, and, perhaps, on a state of being.
In My Half and Your Half, HOTTEA emulates the kind of yarn-bombing that he might normally do on a fence. But instead of taut vertical yarn attached to chain links, they are stretched by small nails. Both of the self-portraits show an angst-ridden expression with hands clutching his cheeks, but in one the face is right side up and the other is upside down.
Linking the two halves are colorful strings weighed down by two realistic-looking figures on either side dressed in white jeans, white sweat shirts, and orange ski masks. The piece is called Hanging by a Thread. According to Burnet Gallery director Jennifer Phelps, the figures represent HOTTEA and his friend.
The Skein of Life
provides another kind of self-portrait. Here, he has replicated his very recognizable HOTTEA tag, which has appeared in many of his street-art works, in light blue. On small shelves created within the letters are pictures of his family and objects with symbolic meaning such as toys, fabrics, and rubber bands. The work is reminiscent of the ofrendas used in Dias de los Muertos celebrations.
Growing up New Ulm, Eric Rieger's mother drove him to classes at Intermedia Arts. Phelps says that she's been watching HOTTEA for a couple of years now and realized, in preparation for this exhibit, that Le Meridien Chambers owns a couple of his pieces from when he went by Eric Rieger.
"I wanted to do something different," Phelps says of her motivations behind showcasing HOTTEA's work. While Burnet Gallery did do a collaboration with Juxtaposition Arts a number of years ago that had some graffiti-style pieces, there hasn't been much street-art displayed at the gallery in recent years.
Probably the most interesting piece in the show veers away from HOTTEA's graffiti and yarn bombing roots, entering a more conceptual realm instead. In Self Portrait, located in the window of the gallery, visitors are invited to poke their head through one of two holes made in a sheet of white fabric. There's a cool, glowing light that surrounds your vision inside the cloth fort, and, to someone looking in from the outside, you appear to be only a pair of legs, as the top half of your body is covered by the cloth.
One the one hand, it's an experience of seeing the other person who enters into the other hole. If the other person is a stranger, it forces you to make a momentary connection in the odd configuration, or if you are with someone you know, it gives a moment of intimacy as both of your faces illuminate. Either way, the experiential piece provides an opportunity to pause, and become your own self-portrait.