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The Hero Within: Imagination and Identity

Sunapple has partnered with the Greater Columbus Arts Council on the critically acclaimed Hero Within installation.

By Kitty McConnell FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH  •  Sunday October 18, 2015 5:00 AM

Artists from ARC Industries have worked piles of recyclables into a whimsical fantasy world, transforming the main gallery of the Cultural Arts Center into a giant game board reminiscent of Candyland.

Craftsmen and women in ARC Industries’ Sunapple Studio division began working on the group project in 2013. ARC Industries, a nonprofit workforce-development group for those with developmental disabilities, boasts a studio in which artists work in a variety of mediums.

The artists created a board game called “Superland,” in which each artist is represented by his or her unique superhero game piece — in the form of an avatar on a card laminated in plastic. The original game is set out for visitors to play as they enter the center and before they walk through the human-scale installation that is inspired by the game.

A video playing in the gallery foyer explains how the “Superland” exercise developed into “The Hero Within: Imagination and Identity.” The exhibit’s interrelated sculptures — similar to stations in a board game — are made entirely from repurposed recycled materials, colored glitter and Mod Podge glue.

The collective creativity and careful craftsmanship of the artists are evident in each piece of the installation. Repurposed plastic bottles have been meticulously cut, twisted and shaped into reflective ribbons and strands.

The mind reels at the time and focus it would have taken the artists to reshape these resistant raw materials into a larger-than-life forest, a frothy beach and a dreamlike flower field.

The exhibit is like visiting the world of the classic Beatles’ song Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The recycled plastic and glitter come alive when lit from within by twinkling white lights.

Besides the introductory video and “Superland” game, there are several main elements of the installation.

The Forests, based on concepts developed by Adam Pfirsch and Pat D’Angostino, is a winding display of 115 sculpted trees coated in deep-blue, green and gold glitter. Vinyl record albums form the tree bases. Their skinny trunks explode 8 feet up in fronds of wavy, ribboned plastic.

The Fashion Bush was inspired by Zoe Flaherty’s passion for the sartorial. The delicate cellophane branches of the sculpture rise from the base, then droop gracefully like a willow tree. The leaves are bright plastic cutouts shaped into tiaras, dresses, sunglasses, purses and shoes.

The Sea of Love mimics a frothy wave. The piece, inspired by artist Kelly Boggs, is made from curly white plastic bottles and blue rubber cause bracelets held together by rubber bands. On an adjacent wall hangs a rainbow constructed from colorful bottle caps. A 2-D mobile — on one side a butterfly, a lady bug on the other — is suspended above.

The coral flowers in Field of Beauty will leave visitors smiling.

The artists’ brainstorming sketches are on display, and their superhero self-portraits are for sale. Priced from $20 to $50, 18 of the paintings had been spoken for by the exhibit’s first day. It’s a reminder that the nearly 40 ARC artists and craftspeople who created “The Hero Within” are hard at work every day.