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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Visual Art Review by Mary Margaret Sparks: "In the Course of Human Events 9/11 - 2011"






Thursday August 18 marked the opening of Louisville Visual Art Association’s (LVAA) latest exhibition, In the Course of Human Events 9/11-2011, a show featuring work in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, ten years ago. Curated by Aron Conaway, the exhibition features work by 30 different artists in a variety of mediums including glass, video, installation and photography. 

Daniel Pfalzgraf
"Mohamed Over Elsa"
I’ll start with a few overall positive notes about the exhibit. Firstly, I was pleased to see a mix of emerging artists such as McKinley Moore and Balthus Priest exhibited alongside more established artists like C.J. Pressma and Al Gorman.  Secondly, it was refreshing to see work outside of the box from your traditional gallery show.  Conceptual installations, interactive pieces and striking videos brought a new sense of life to the space.  Thirdly, I appreciated the conceptual and calming work of artists like Vian Sora and Suzi Zimmerer that helped balance the overtly political pieces. Both are necessary to the success of a show like this one, but the former are not always appreciated and accepted.

Talking with Aron Conaway, I learned that much of the work was created specifically for this exhibit.  Conaway did include a few pieces from the 2002 9/11 Exhibition at the LVAA and a few pieces created prior to that including work by Bill Carner (1983) and Artuoro Sandoval (1990).  Each piece in the show is accompanied by a statement from the artist, adding a nice personal touch that provides more depth and meaning for the viewer.

Mason Maxy
"Don't Drink the Kool-Aid"
Walking into the gallery, I was immediately drawn to the corn hole installation by Emil Walton. Featuring images of Osama Bin Laden and the American flag, the brightly colored corn hole platforms stood in the middle of the room, accompanied by bomb-shaped beanbags. The game was set up for visitors to play and became quite an amusement during the opening reception. 

“My current work was created to celebrate the patriotic passion Americans share amongst each other and the world. That same passion that the rest of the world envies or doesn’t fully understand can be provocative towards outsiders yet will bring our country together in times of need.”-Emil Walton

Being a sculptor and installation artist myself I found the installation by Sharon Scott quite a remarkable piece.  The work consists of a classroom desk accompanied by a backpack full of school supplies and a bottle of water. A helium balloon with American flag dĂ©cor is tied to the back of the chair. A small recording device invites the visitor to contribute a recorded message while wearing a blindfold. It’s unassuming, yet sends a powerful message to the viewer.

Mel Chin
"9-11, 9-11, Film Adapted from his Graphic Novel"
Falling along the same lines is the work by Dan Pfalzgraf.  On close inspection, you’ll see that motor oil is listed as a medium.  This subtlety lends strength to his work. Incorporating the oil with paint and other materials, Dan creates striking portraits that evoke strong emotions. I pondered each piece, trying to delve into the thoughts of the downcast face staring back at me.  

Walking the exhibition you’ll notice four separate televisions. On first glance I thought that four video installations was too much. After closer examination, I found that each piece differed greatly from the other and provided a unique perspective to the exhibition. I enjoyed most the film by Mel Chinn based on his graphic novella. The film shows the correlation between the 9/11 attacks and the attacks in Chile, 17 years prior to the World Trade Center.  Hallie Jones’ work also stood out among the crowd with its original concept and striking audio.

Emil Walton
"Nothing Spells Freedom Like Cornhole and War"
Last but not least, another piece that distinguished itself to me was Mason Maxey’s Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid.  This little piece is hung in the back gallery and will only be seen if you turn the corner as you enter the room.  Although small, its whimsy and cleverness give it a large impact.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise so you’ll have to go to the show and discover it for yourself. 

Being both an artist and curator, Aron Conaway brought an interesting perspective to developing an exhibition. I caught up with him to get his story on how he balanced both of those roles.  Here’s what he had to say:

“I gave the artists basically a complete freedom in coming up with what they felt
most accurately reflected their own opinions, memories, or emotions related September Eleventh, 2001 and/or interconnected fallout in the following 10 years. I feel that the artists' personal statements were very powerful, which, beyond pestering them to turn them in and throwing them on the wall, was beyond my curatorial power. I definitely see a relationship between my being an artist and my loose approach to receiving work in this show. I enjoy the magic of leaving the final products and group of work up to the collective unconscious, and then intuitively working with these materials in a space”.

Overall, I would call the exhibition a success.  My only negative comment is on a few of the photographic works. Some of the pieces were unoriginal in concept and hung in such a way that it was hard as a viewer to even look at the work. Thankfully it only applies to a few pieces and doesn’t affect the overall positive impact and refined execution of the show.  It’s not easy taking a tragic moment in US history and portraying it through creative means. Aron Conaway has done a great job of embodying each side of the issue. From direct political pieces to abstract conceptual work, In the Course of Human Events is an exhibition everyone should see.

Make sure you make it down to the LVAA at the Louisville Water Tower before the show ends on September 13.   Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday 9-5, Sunday 12-4. Admission is $3/$2 for seniors and students free to LVAA members and children under 12.

The Louisville Visual Art Association is also hosting a few events to tie in with the exhibition:

Looking Back – A Day of Remembrance: Sunday September 11, 1PM-5PM. Programming to include live performances, film-showings and ephemeral artwork in memory of September 11, 2001. Free and open to the public, all ages.

Food for Thought, Luncheon and Lecture: Tuesday September 13, Noon-1:30PM
Presentation by Aron Conaway, Curator and LVAA Open Doors Program Manager.
Reservations required; $15 member/$20 non-member

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