Thursday, November 11, 2010

“Foreign Matter” at the Fountain (and in our communities)

Lesley Sickle and Emily Sullivan, both from Kent State (MFA candidate and adjunct faculty respectively) teamed up to produce a 5 panel piece that “explores use of chemical alteration to the domestic landscape and its resultant effects on the human body”…  The five works each depict one stage of the cycle of contamination.  Now readers, I was going to do a straightforward review and description of this show but recent headlines about a certain type of contamination within our society of lead me to rethink how these works could be viewed on another plane.  I am not speaking of a synthetic poison in this case, but of an emotional one that probably infects many more people than we care to realize. In due justice to the artists, the show is located in the Fountain Gallery at Malone College through December 10th.

The works are created on Stonehenge paper which is a 100% cotton, acid free, vellum surfaced paper specifically for drawing and printmaking. Yes, I had to look that up. It is also buffered with calcium carbonate to protect artwork from contaminated environments, hence a totally logical choice for their message. The edges are deckled and pinned directly to the wall, a technique that is becoming more and more common as an acceptable method of presentation. Each panel has multiple layers with the first always being a half tone screen print of something that sets the environmental stage for its particular level of contamination. From left to right (you have to see the show that way for it to make sense), the background images are as follows, an aerial view of farm fields, a man watering a shrub, tomato plants, tomato plants round two, and then what is probably blood cells or some type of bodily cellular structure.  Each panel then contains a section of a ¾ inch grid and some type of pictorial or patterned element highlighting the specific area of contamination. Neon green and an acid red color are well placed to draw our attention and echo the mutated affects of poisons; neither color would be a “normal” one if colors can be categorized as such. So how does this story relate to societal issues beyond physical toxins?  The topic would be bullies and the damage they can do to both a person and an environment. Let’s follow this metaphor panel by panel and see if you agree….

Panel one is the big picture to introduce the artists’ overall message, the one with the aerial photo overlaid with a landscape architectural design. Think of this as our community and its individual units. Each one has its own layout of shrubs and what defines a home structure, unique and yet similar, built in the same “neighborhood”.  We all have family units that are connected by common schools, activities and friendships.  These things intersect, overlap and define who we are as people. 

Panel two depicts a man watering a shrub whose roots are red and dripping like blood through veins into the acid green ground screen printed across the paper. He is using a sprayer that one assumes contains poison hence the red of the roots that are spreading out in all directions under the surface. At some point, a poison may fall upon our own gardens, unseen at first, but which slowly seeps into all the connected roots, leaving behind sores and wounds allowed to fester and bleed, but often hidden from view. Those who bully are often very stealth and secretive.

Panel three is screen printed with twin tomato vines, one having an overlay of two large green tomatoes added to the vine and the other with its smaller fruit colored red.  The clusters reminded me of red blood cells. The artists are obviously depicting the next stage, where plants have absorbed the toxins and are producing poisoned crops. Just like a plant so is a person, so as the festering wounds left by the infection continue to grow and spread, the by-product of the tainted vines absorbs  hurtful and destructive messages to the point that what is positive gets devoured by the negative.

Panel four has these same vines, the same screen print, only now two human figures are overlaid along with three panels of the human digestive tract. We have consumed the evil. We took it in, allowed it to become part of our bodies and our hearts and our minds, thinking that what looked so good on the outside had to be just as good on the inside (hmm…..aren’t tomatoes somewhat like apples and garden the of Eden?....). We ate off of the toxic vines not knowing what lay underneath the ground and had been circulating through the veins, something from a source we would never know, but whose contamination now affects all of us. Those who are bullied often do not tell, yet their behavior affects all those around them.

Panel five again has the two figures but now the three additional overlays are of microscopic cellular images. The poison’s affects are now complete and inescapable. We are all affected by and will suffer from the contamination whose festering, seeping sore can be isolated but may not ever cut out completely. For every bully that is contained, others are out there taking their place. Recently our news has been filled with stories of young people committing suicide or murder because of bullying behavior. Yes, we are poisoning our physical environment but so too are we allowing man to poison man with words and deeds. If only someone had taken away the sprayer from panel two and perhaps given him a camera or a paintbrush instead.. 

None of the panels are signed, which at first was irritating, but because this is one installation consisting of five pieces, signatures are not necessary. With further reflection, I am glad no names are on these pieces because the message is so universal in so many ways and layers, that no one should “own” it for we are all responsible for what happens in our environments as well as in our relationships.

Many thanks to the artists Lesley Sickle and Emily Sullivan for allowing me to use their work to enhance another one of society’s toxins.   Take a few moments to stop by Malone College and see these thought-provoking prints.

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