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Reception for exhibit shows draw of research-based art

09.13.18
By: Mark Tarnacki
Maize postcard 280

The image above is from the exhibition "Maize Meditation" currently in the McCarthy Art Gallery. Below we see Brian Collier of the Saint Michel's art faculty, and beneath that, a photograph of political social activism from Lionel Delevigne, part of the next exhibit coming to the gallery.

A well-attended opening reception last Thursday, September 6 in the McCarthy Arts Center Gallery for the exhibition by New York City based artist Amanda Turner Pohan called “Maize Meditation” -- an installation and site-specific work in the Gallery and the Saint Michael's Natural Area investigating the history of corn production and consumption -- kicked off a series of Fall Semester exhibits that reflect a commitment by the Gallery’s Curator Brian Collier of the Saint Michael’s art faculty to advance research-based art “that is in dialogue with other disciplines.”

“These are artists who are not just creating images or objects in their studio, but are really connected to the broader world,” Collier said. “This show is a good example of that, since not only has she done a lot of research on the science and history of corn, but really all aspects, such as foods we consume that have corn.”’

Pohan has told Collier how she “got really interested when thinking of the history of corn here, which took her to the indigenous farm practices of Shirley Hook, an Abenaki chief who is the holder of the traditional seeds the Abenaki have used since time immemorial,” he said.

The artist worked closely with the chief and her husband, visiting their farm several times. One drawing on the wall during the reception is of the chief’s daughter who is an artist. “Chief Hook gave corn to Amanda to use in the project and their going to share that for this performance during a September 22 event when they plan to eat different kinds of corn with those attending.”

Both Chief Hook and her husband, both of whom Collier describes as “absolutely lovely, generous people” – were at the Thursday opening reception.

CollierBrian Collier said when he was on sabbatical last spring he had the idea to have guest curators this year with him helping organized. “I reached out to a really interesting curatorial organization called Overnight Projects, a local group run by Abbey Meeker…who was particularly interest in the new St. Mike’s Natural area and she said they would like to engage that in some way.

Meeker pitched the idea to artists she knew and “Amanda rose to the surface. She was interested that this is the last year we’re going to be growing corn on the land,” which is in the process of wetland remediation to be a living classroom for Saint Michael’s College, so the history of corn will be lost and this will be the last harvest, for good and ill.” He noted that some runoff from the corn cultivation is not good for the nearby Winooski River, though it is sad in another sense that the era of its cultivation on campus land is ending.

This project was related to a similar project that the artist did in Mexico City on the origins of corn there, he said. The artist Pohan also serendipitously discovered a connection to Saint Michael’s art instructor, Mallory Breiner, who has been helping the College’s art faculty meet a huge recent demand for oil painting classes, Collier said.

“That really nice at the opening, they hadn’t seen each other in years, so we were experiencing all these weird connections,” Collier said. “Now through this project, Amanda has made even deeper connections with Vermont through relations she developed with this Abenaki chief, and she’s already talking about wanting to do more up here. So it’s been a really exciting project because it was one that I’m participating in as a facilitator instead of curator.”

More research-based art is coming to the gallery in the next exhibition with collaboration from Jerry Swope of the Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Art faculty, examining the connection between art and activism and including a panel presentation and photography exhibit by Lionel Delevigne, featuring his photographs from "To The Village Square: from Montague to Fukashima: 1975-2004.” This Exhibition runs from Oct. 11 – Dec. 10 with a gallery reception on Oct. 18 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Llionel image

Swope and the College’s Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts Department will be hosting a panel about the works in that show on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in McCarthy Recital Hall. Prior to the panel, there will be a Artists Gallery Talk at 6 p.m. in the McCarthy Gallery. Lionel Delevingne has traveled and photographed extensively throughout the world. In his work, he’s sought a conscious merging of politics and art. Born in France, he was deeply impacted by the social and political unrest that occurred in Paris in 1968. When he documented the 1971 May Day demonstrations in Washington, D.C., he saw how the power of a peaceful, but vocal citizenry could affect national policy, a lesson that would reverberate throughout his career. Both McCarthy Art Gallery events are funded by the vanderHeyden Fund and the Art Department.

“I’m doing logistics of the exhibition itself and hanging the show while Jerry really is focusing on connecting the art and activism,” Collier said, adding that “Both of these shows ended up fitting perfectly within the kind of themes I’ve been pushing in the gallery since I started taking it over in 2013 – the idea of research-based practice -- socially engaged work, environmentally engaged work, are themes I think resonate really well in this community.”

Also in October, Brian will be working with students from his Sculpture: Site and Installation course to create and install three sculptural works on the campus of UVM for the “Feverish World Symposium.” Brian is part of the interdisciplinary group BASTA, which is organizing this event with EcoCulture Lab hosted by UVM.  The symposium runs from Oct. 20-22, 2018 at UVM with some events hosted at Champlain and various locations around the Burlington area.

Most immediately next on the gallery agenda will be the follow-up component of Maize Meditations, a Sept. 22 performance meal. “The artist will start in the lobby of McCarthy with corn consumables and then we will walk over for the last corn crop down by the river,” he said of that event, which he expects to last not much more than an hour to 90 minutes.

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