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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life + Arts

Art interprets societal progress

Curated by Janet Phelps and appropriately titled Solution, DiverseWorks’ new exhibit features seven artists exploring what it means for society to change and progress. Solution can be viewed March 6 through April 18 in the DiverseWorks Main Gallery.

Posed with a precarious state of transition and a dire need for improvement, the presidency of Barack Obama is stirring society with thoughts of the prospect of something better and how to get there -‘ a solution.

‘It’s something that everybody is thinking about in one way or another,’ Phelps said, ‘and I wanted to put a positive spin on it. ‘hellip; It’s not too late for us.’

Joseph Smolinski, an artist and art teacher in New Haven, Conn., took the technology of wind turbines and manipulates the mechanism to resemble a tree. ‘Tree Turbine,’ one of his two works in Solution, is on display as both a scaled-down model and video. The invention was modeled after cell phone trees, cell phone towers made to look like trees, as a solution to the eyesore critics of wind-power would list as a downfall.

‘People don’t want to see a giant spinning thing in their backyard,’ Smolinski said, ‘but they’d rather not pay high prices for electricity as well.’

Not intended to be a true generator and no more efficient than a real turbine, the turbine’s creation was about raising awareness.

‘Being aware of the effect we have on our environment is very important in terms of making progress. The place we live shouldn’t be necessarily exploited only for resources to consume,’ Smolinski said. ‘It’s more than just like having solar panels on your house; I think it’s a whole mindset.’

His other piece, ‘Taking Back the Jetty’ poses a ‘what if’ with the ideas of the longevity of the environment and art and how those things relate to each other in a video showing his own solutions.

‘We’re in a weird time of ‘do anything, do something,” artist Jeanine Oleson said.

Her videos documenting her public art project ‘The Greater New York Smudge’ is just one of three works she has contributed to Solution. Oleson chose four different sites plagued by ecological negligence in New York to set the scene for what she called a ‘desperate gesture.’ For the public art project, she utilized smudging, an American Indian act of cleansing, in hopes of ridding New York of its negative energy.

One of Christopher K. Ho’s three works to be featured in Solution, ‘Monumental Compost Heap,’ is ‘a counterintuitive attempt to make a monument ‘hellip; out of a degenerating material: compost,’ Ho said. ‘It stemmed from observation that people tend to think of nature in terms of beauty, but nature can also be unpalatable, odorous and fierce, and that these other aspects of nature should be recognized and even memorialized.’

His other work involves environmental issues. In ‘Lesbian Mountains in Love,’ Ho creates a love story between two mountains, Mount Rainier in Washington state and El Pop in Mexico City. Through texts borrowed from Nicholas Sparks’ novels such as ‘The Notebook’ and ‘A Walk to Remember,’ the mountains communicate their sadness for being estranged after once being a part of the same land 150 million years ago.

”Lesbian Mountains in Love’ wove many interests together, primarily among these, an interest in different temporal registers: the time of viewing art, the (no) time of being in love, the geologic time of the mountains waiting to come back together, the real time of the filming. ‘hellip; Also, I am an avid skier, so (I) love mountains,’ Ho wrote. His focus does not lie in environmental concerns, such as that of global warming, but instead focuses on temporality, mutability and impermanence.

Nina Katchadourian’s piece comes across as a metaphor about being overwhelmed by emotion and bringing it to a contained place, a physical solution of fixing something and how it sometimes feels good for the heart to do when faced with a physical problem.

‘Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by large abstract problems, it can be very comforting to do things like clean your desk, polish a pair of shoes, sharpen pencils or clean your house,’ Katchadourian said. ‘My house is never cleaner than when I’m incredibly stressed out.’

The piece incorporates time and contemplation using a single drop of water down a diagonal line of string, from a bucket up high to a bucket on the floor, dripping approximately every 60 seconds. Love-letter writings between Katchadourian’s grandparents serve as the backdrop and the work inspires people to consider working on themselves as individuals in order to contribute to the whole.’

‘There’s this very strange combination of hope and deep anxiety. I feel like a very different set of daily emotions than I did a year ago. (Obama), too, has been saying everybody has to pitch in too, and basically try to help solve this ‘hellip; on their own one-person scale.’

Usually pretty cynical in his work, creating a work about an exhibit based on hope presented a challenge for Michael Waugh. Using the text from Edward Gibbon’s book ‘Fall of the Roman Empire,’ Waugh’s piece, ‘Decline and Fall,’ conveys society’s fascination with blame in intricate detail.

Though the book was written in the late 1700s, people still read it today as if it were law, Waugh said, but it contains many flaws. One of the main theories of the book is Christianity feminized the Romans, weakening the empire and allowing barbarians to take over.

The three-panel etchings display a bear and wolf looking in disgust with implied blame at a more gentle, fey bear in the center with a burned-down landscape as its backdrop, assumingly a result of the effeminate bear’s nature.

‘But, of course, bears don’t start forest fires,’ Waugh said, joking about the popular culture image of Smokey the Bear.

Hoping it ‘kind of pisses everybody off,’ Waugh wants his audience to think about his work, which may lead to the conclusion that gays are responsible for problems, or that he’s blaming Christians, when really the point is searching for blame will only stymie and cloud progress.

‘In order for us to find solutions, we have to look at the big picture and not focus (too narrowly) in trying to pin blame,’ Waugh said. ‘If you’re trying to pin blame on the bear or on the Christians, you’re losing the big picture.’

Jeff Gibson, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., created nine original works for Solution.

Consisting of three sculptures and six works on canvas, the pieces combine his interests in retail and museum exhibition display, the printed image and abstract expressionism, he wrote.’ Some of the original objects in his sculptures include retail mannequin parts, fake gold ‘bling,’ Spider-Man sneakers and used trophy parts.

Gibson wants each viewer to see each object and its history and wonder what happens when these objects and their histories collide.

‘For me, each step creates a new original that does not necessarily recognizes its past,’ he said.

With the horizon of our nation’s new future, Gibson is excited to see what it will bring.

‘I feel this election put some much needed enthusiasm and activism into the way the public expresses their concerns and gets involved in the political process,’ Gibson said. ‘This is progress and will have far reaching results within our own country and how other countries view us.’

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