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SMC Art Gallery exhibits Berrien artist collective

Fun Squad’s “The Kids’ Table” multi-media art exhibition fills Southwestern Michigan College’s gallery through Nov. 1. The Benton Harbor artist collective builds interactivity into every show, from indoor swings to free haircuts. For The Kids’ Table, visitors are encouraged to “unleash their inner child” by coloring, exploring and creating — or playing ping-pong on — a collaborative table.

The Kids’ Table features projects by Lea Bult, who teaches drawing and painting for SMC, Nathan Margoni, Jennifer Zona, Mark Rospenda, Clement Teo, Joshua Mason, Ellen Nelson, Gabe Thompson, Ben Good, Loon Mabians, Bill Boyce, Xiaoquing Zhu, Cara Ronk and SMC faculty Marc Dombrosky and Shannon Eakins.

“Nathan and I started (Fun Squad) about two years ago,” Bult said. “It’s important to us to work outside the traditional gallery realm, which can be highbrow, with bored people standing around. We’re interested in art that’s a little out of bounds and includes people who are not necessarily formally trained. Gabe Thompson is self-taught, which is really important to us.

“Our shows are interactive because we’re really interested in engaging the audience and pushing them to think about gallery space as fun, not boring or snooty. All of the stuff on The Kids’ Table is from our studios and significant to our lives or our creative process.”

Zona, an SMC alumna and Berrien Springs ceramic artist for the past four years, exhibits “Purity,” a cocoon of recycled canvas, hand-made ropes and saltcedar sticks. It stands twice as tall as her and flows onto the floor like a wedding-dress train.

“When I lived in New Mexico, saltcedar was an invasive species taking over wetland areas along rivers,” Zona said. “I started doing cocoon-like forms when I was overseas in my undergraduate studies in Jamaica. I worked with banana fibers on a huge tripod. I did it because I was in a place where I felt my safety was compromised. It was a Third-World country and I lived in a hostel surrounded by 12-foot, razor-wire fences. The culture was so different, the night life so loud, everything about the place was abrasive. When I started weaving these forms, they were somewhat of a safe place for me. The chaos around me went away when I got into the meditative movement of weaving.”

Zona, who exhibited ceramic Crazy Cats at Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize and has done a textile residency in Iceland, “wanted to make something larger than myself so it’s an epiphany for viewers to see the world is so big compared to them, though this wouldn’t be a large-scale piece if you stood next to a mountain. Living in the Southwest, we had so much space, I have an inclination to make big things. I’m primarily a ceramic artist, but I also want to work with recycled materials.”

Zona, who grew up in Niles, earned an associate degree from SMC, a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University and, in 2009, a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico. Besides creating ceramic installations and weavings, she teaches ceramics at Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph.

Rospenda, South Bend Museum of Art curator, presents three paper pulp pieces, “Bird Perch,” “Root,” and “100 Years.” He recycles drawings to make his own pulp.

A closing reception is scheduled in the gallery, room 108 of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus, 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26. Gallery hours are Monday/Wednesday, 12:15-3 p.m., and Tuesday/Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.