New art exhibit invites viewers to wrap themselves in weather
McCarthy Art Gallery’s latest exhibit “We Are The Weather” opened on Oct. 19 exhibiting the creations of Seattle-based artist Vaughn Bell, who often works in the public art sector to create collaborative projects that frequently focus on our watershed and ecology.
For the exhibit, Bell created blankets resembling large-scale atmospheric weather maps, which she hand-painted onto flannel and sewed. Bell said using atmospheric imagery which are “gorgeous beautiful rainbows that depict these destructive weather events” was a way to emotionally connect her audience. She also made light blue ceramic cup-like objects, inscribed with map-like drawings, that represented “little watersheds.”
The audience was invited to “wrap themselves in a weather blanket” and “drink water from the little watersheds”—something Bell said “our bodies are intimately connected to.”
Bell said she likes using art to make abstract concepts like large-scale weather systems more tangible for the viewer by inviting them to physically engage with the art.
“The way that we usually perceive these weather maps is on a newscast with an atmosphere of fear so to turn that into an object of comfort feels very paradoxical to me,” Bell said. “We build these domestic environments to protect ourselves from the weather, so what does it mean to bring this image of the weather into that domestic environment?”
True to Bell’s collaborative art practice, the exhibit is partly co-created. Viewers can color their own weather map to display on the wall as part of the exhibit. The exhibit also features a film created by Professor of Biology, Declan McCabe, and the Director of the Media Creations Studio, Patrick Bohan, which documents Vermont’s historic flooding last summer and how the water was absorbed into the Saint Michael’s College Natural Area and the Winooski River.
Dozens of people came to hear Bell speak in Cheray before walking over to the McCarthy Art Gallery together. During her slideshow presentation, Bell shared images of her current and past projects, some of which have been exhibited in Zurich, Krakow, Brussels, Buenos Aires, and Paris.
One public art project she’s currently working on in Washington state is integrated into streetscapes. Bell explained that the City of Seattle has undertaken a massive infrastructure project to divert water that currently dumps sewage into the local water bodies. A small portion of the capital project’s funding went to public art to help communicate and educate people about the project. Bell was selected to recreate a series of concrete drain hole covers she calls “portals” that will go on city sidewalks above the new underground tunnel to visually tell the story below.
Bell showed images of another past project where she created a rain garden guide to inspire people to put rain gardens on their own property and spread the message that “a rain garden is a little engine of healing.”
She explained, “A rain garden is a small gesture, but many cumulative rain gardens add up to less storm water flowing into infrastructure, or creating flooding, or dumping pollutants into water bodies.
One past series she worked on was called Village Greens where the audience immersed their heads inside of tiny greenhouses that Bell created and called “personal biospheres.” In 2021 her large-scale installations Plantscapes were featured at Kew Gardens in London.
“I’m really interested in how a person completes the artwork,” Bell said.
During the Q & A portion of the presentation on campus, one audience member asked Bell how she came to the idea of creating blankets for “We Are The Weather.” Bell explained she carves out time for unstructured, experimental exploration in her studio practice. The concept of creating a “literal blanket” took hold after she was experimenting by enlarging an image in her studio of an “atmospheric river weather blanket.”
“It becomes something kind of alive,” said Bell. “There’s a spark that happens when work really feels it has its own life to it.”
She added, “It was just about following a thought to its illogical conclusion.”
“We Are The Weather” will be on display through Dec. 15, 2023, in the McCarthy Art Gallery.
The way that we usually perceive these weather maps is on a newscast with an atmosphere of fear so to turn that into an object of comfort feels very paradoxical to me.