Caffeinated art

Marvin Dean of Baltimore walks though an installation by Charleston artist Jonathan Brilliant in the City Art Gallery Wednesday. The piece is made of 70,000 wood coffee stirrers held together by tension. It is part of a Piccolo Spoleto Exhibition called C

Some works of art are meant to cause viewers to suspend disbelief and to stir the soul. Jonathan Brilliant's "The City Gallery Piece" is suspended from the second-story handrails of City Gallery at Waterfront Park, and it's made entirely of coffee stirrers.

For this installation, the College of Charleston alumnus wove 70,000 of the flat wooden sticks into a swooping, tenuous form that fills the center of the downtown art space.

"I think I always felt whatever I would be doing in life would involve this much labor," said Brilliant, who has worked as a mascot, cook and fireworks salesman between school sessions and art gigs.

The piece is part of a series built from coffee paraphernalia, which Brilliant said is reflective of his natural environment: a "laptop farm," or coffee shop.

"I suppose if I were a horse farmer and I hung out on ranches, I would make art about horses," he said.

Brilliant describes himself as a wannabe British installation artist working within the Southern craft tradition.

"I'm kind of like an American band that sounds like British music," he said, citing Andy Goldsworthy as an influence.

Shannon Douglas, a fellow at the gallery, watched as Brilliant built the piece from the floor up, working 10 hours per day for 10 days.

"He was extremely focused. We would forget he was in the gallery, actually," Douglas said. She observed him carefully stacking used coffee cups as he worked, marking the passage of time.

The end result is a gravity-defying structure full of waves and lumps, utterly tempting to reach out and touch, with a built-in archway under which guests can pass.

The installation is part of City Gallery's Piccolo Spoleto exhibition "Revelation of Process," which will be on display through July 26. Other featured local artists include graffiti guru Ishmael and found-object projectionist Ben Timpson. Admission is free.