Friday, October 14, 2011

Getting It

I had the fortune to be asked by the lovely Nancy Willis to be part of the exhibition Discrepancy, living between war and peace, at the Napa Valley Museum this year. For which, I created the installation above. Titled Power, it is a cast shadow (made from handcut denim paper) of an oil rig.

Nancy said the inspiration for this exhibition was the cognitive dissonance she felt while living in Napa, which if you've never been there, is a helluva GORGEOUS place, and the knowledge that wars and related atrocities were taking place in other parts of the world.

When asked to consider these ideas, I found I wanted to say something about what bridges the gap between American lifestyles and war - our love of fossil fuels, particularly petroleum. I decided that it should take the form of a cast shadow because its ubiquitous presence in everything I do, either in the forms of energy or plastics. It's there, but it so vast and overshadowing that we, as Americans, don't even see it anymore, yet our need for it is enough to send our nation to war in order to control petroleum-rich locations.

At the opening, several people came up to me and mentioned they liked my work, and then asked me what it was about. At least one person said as politely as she could that she didn't get it. On one hand, this says to me that I was spot-on in the omnipresence of petroleum - people can't even see it as an issue. On the other, the artist in me (who has similar conversations very frequently when she is expounding half-formed ideas to Robert), wants to shake them and say, "What's wrong with you?!?!? Don't you get it??!?!" More due to my vanity than any other reason.

I remember in graduate school having a discussion about how, if a viewer didn't understand a work of art, the artist has failed them for not making it clear enough. (I know this opinion differs from a part of the art world that makes work responding to art theory, and so creates pieces that have a certain inscrutability to a large portion of the population who hasn't read the same esoterica). However I couldn't help but wonder what this reaction meant in this situation. Did I fail? Or is my interpretation of the theme just cattywampus to the way most people seem to think? Or is that I was so very spot-on?

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. In addition, I should add that several people, including Nancy herself, told me that they were glad to see I addressed the issue of petroleum dependance. I'm told that a veteran on a private tour saw my piece, pointed, and said, "That's what it's all about." So it seems I didn't fail all viewers.

As I muddle over these reactions, I can't help wondering what the next incarnation of this piece should be. It seems like just the beginning of a larger exploration.

On a lighter side, I had a small brush with big celebrity during the opening reception. Robert Redford showed up (his wife is one of the artists in the exhibition). Here I am, blushing madly, with him and Kristie Sheppard, the director of the museum.

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