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Exhibit lets visitors see, feel the art

By GARY DEMUTH

Salina Journal

SALINA, Kan. (AP) -- The blackened canvas represents a night sky on the cusp of a thunderstorm.

It is connected to a large, cone-like wooden frame resembling a stereo speaker. Behind this canvas is a series of electric wires and transducers programmed to create thunder-like sounds.

When visitors stand in front of "Thunder Night," the combination of light, sound and vibration will cause them to feel the work on a visceral level. At least that's the hope of Joshua Short, a San Francisco-based conceptual artist who is the current artist in residence at the Salina Art Center, 242 S. Santa Fe.

"I wanted to harness the idea of sound and atmosphere, and how there is electricity all around us," said Short, 39.

When a visitor stands in front of "Thunder Night," he said, "you'll be able to hear it and feel it through its vibrations."

Short, whose residency began Feb. 16 and continues through April 26, lives and creates new works at the Art Center Warehouse.

After a working trip to Portugal this spring, Short will return to Salina in June to be this year's Salina Art Center artist at the Smoky Hill River Festival from June 12 through 15 at Oakdale Park.

Creating works that combine painting, sculpture and mixed-media elements that blur the lines between spectator and participant has been Short's goal for the past 16 years. He wryly likens his art to professional wrestling, where the wrestlers, announcers and audience suspend their disbelief and share a role in the creation of an exaggerated and fictional event.

"Everyone becomes a participant in this collective performance," he said.

Another piece he's working on during his residency is recreation of the front end of a Cadillac, complete with wheels, but with a grill that looks like the front of a government or capitol building. When participants turn on the motor, the Cadillac proceeds to spin in circles.

With nearly all of his work, Short likes to break apart old machinery and found objects and reassemble them in new ways to create a political, social or rebellious statement.

It's something he's enjoyed doing since he was a child growing up in Fremont in northern California.

"As a kid, I was into taking things apart and putting them together," he said. "It's how I learned to understand things. I think I inherited that from my dad, who was a jack of all trades."

Growing up, Short said he was influenced by punk music, underground art, biker culture and other things that were "outside the mainstream."

"I'm definitely out of step with normality," he said. "My brain works differently."

In high school, Short had several friends who were into "comic books and gory movies." When they began drawing comics together, Short realized art might be a future career path.

"I realized art was something I could do that's interesting," he said. "I could combine it with my interest in underground art, punk rock and hip-hop. The Bay area was good for that. A lot of that culture was around us, and it wasn't that hard to access."

Even so, it took a while for Short to commit to being an artist. In high school, he made extra money as a karate teacher, a career he continued until age 25. Short moved to San Francisco in 1996 and started painting while supporting himself with a series of jobs that included a stint as a bicycle messenger.

In 1997, Short met a woman from Chile who also was an artist. When they moved in together and agreed to mutually support each other, Short decided to go to college and actually pursue an art degree.

"I was the first one in my family to go to college," he said. "It was important for me to go, to prove to myself I could do it."

After attending graphic design classes at San Francisco City College, Short transferred to San Francisco State College in 2005 and earned a bachelor's degree in conceptual information art.

"Conceptual art is not bound to a medium, whether painting or sculpture," he said. "It's based on the idea first, and that appealed to me."

While attending college, Short became part of a group called the San Francisco Print Collective, which made politically based street art. He also worked in a print shop making T-shirts.

At the same time, he joined an anti-war marching band called the Brass Liberation Orchestra.

The band protested the Iraq war by playing Balkan music in various neighborhoods and during protest events.

"I eventually stepped out of the band," Short said. "We were always marching, playing music, and I didn't have time for art."

After graduating from San Francisco State College, Short entered a graduate program at the University of California at Davis. He attended the school from 2007 to 2009 and received a master's degree in studio art.

Since graduation, Short has exhibited his art throughout the San Francisco Bay area and in New York City. His home base remains San Francisco, where he and a friend have a warehouse space on Treasure Island, a man-made landform in the San Francisco Bay.

"It's a big warehouse where my shop is now," he said. "They used to do nuclear testing there."

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com