Gina Thomas McGee, Curator of Education

The title of the Elias Sime exhibition is Tightrope, which is the artist’s way of highlighting all of the tension in his work. You know tension, right? The feeling of two opposite ideas, thoughts, obligations, etc, pulling you in two directions? You might be feeling it right at this moment. Instead of clenching your jaw and fighting through it, take a little tour of the opposites in the Elias Sime exhibition. First up? Large and small.

At first glance, this work looks like the grand, gridded farmland or massive, dense cities you’d see from the window of an airplane. You can just imagine walking through the streets or driving past the green fields. Up close, it is a different story altogether. Tiny wires and minuscule computer parts make up the three sections of this work.

Next, we’ll look at fast and slow.

This work puts technology front and center. The artist has used the electronic pieces and parts that help us connect with each other all over the world in the blink of an eye. Information travels through these bits and wires at lightning speeds. On the other hand, the work itself takes a long time to create. Look closely at the red lines and black dots. Those are wires that have been meticulously braided by hand and then tacked down- an act that would have taken countless hours to complete.

Finally, we’ll observe something old and new.

If this artwork feels familiar, it may be reminding you of a kind of art-making that is thousands of years old: mosaics. Traditionally made of tiny glass or stone pieces, mosaics are often installed in churches and other public spaces because they are built to last (There is even one at the museum, which dates from 1899). There is no glass or stone here, though. The tiny tiles in this work are actually keyboard keys, a very new technology compared to mosaic tiles.

The contrasts in Sime’s work reward close inspection and slow looking. So, take your time and allow yourself to be surprised and delighted but these fascinating artworks.

Elias Sime: Tightrope, the first major traveling survey dedicated to the Ethiopian artist’s work, is on display at the Akron Art Museum through May 24. Sime’s March 29 artist talk has been canceled as part of public health efforts.

Elias Sime: Tightrope is organized by the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York.

Its presentation in Akron is made possible through the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Ohio Arts Council; The Tom and Marilyn Merryweather Fund; the Kenneth L. Calhoun Charitable Trust, KeyBank, Trustee; Katie and Mark Smucker; and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph S. Kanfer.

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