The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
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Killian Baarlaer

Preview to “Scenes From Nowhere” gallery.

Scenes From Nowhere: Interpreting SOTA’s curious summer art exhibit

July 28, 2022

“Scenes From Nowhere,” an art exhibit hosted by the NKU School of the Arts will be running through Aug. 26. It features three gallery sections: Gates of Eden by Mark Albain, Pictorial Redux by Joe Hedges and Abject Dreamscapes by Kyle Angel, MIR Collab and Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong. Each section aims to embody the theme of pictorial representation through a contemporary and unencumbered lens.

The theme of pictorial representation–a classic but broad theme–creates a collection of artwork that represents ideas and objects that people interact with daily. With modern technology and versatile techniques of self-expression, the artists included in the exhibit showcase work that encapsulates human feeling and perception expressed abstractly, as the artworks are recreations of the envisages that exist only in their minds. The ideas are executed in unorthodox ways but adhere to the same principle theme of worldly portrayals, creating consistency and diversity throughout the gallery. The flexible and imaginative aura of the gallery cultivates a space that encourages viewers to be creative in how they engage with and share their view of the world.

Gates of Eden by Mark Albain 

Entering the SOTA building on the third floor and turning the corner to the right leads viewers to an overlooking vantage point of Mark Albain’s Gates of Eden. The piece is a site-installation that comprises many small images arranged to form the expansive whole image, spanning multiple walls.

According to the exhibit notes, the piece was inspired by the Bob Dylan song of the same title: a socially powerful song that questions people’s blind faith in a rapturous afterlife. Although Albain grew up familiar with the biblical idea of Eden, in early 2020, he became motivated to create his version of the storied land on earth, spurring this project that carried on throughout the COVID-19 lockdown and 2020.

The piece seeks to strike a balance between the natural and man-made physical matter surrounding us. The visual balance of these two distinct stimuli present in the artwork speaks to the importance of balancing them in our own lives. Too much emphasis on the natural world can create a dissociation from society that leaves a person isolated; too much emphasis on the factitious objects or the man-made faculties that propel society can create tedium and a false sense of purpose. The present life is the only life that is certain, and capitalizing on what is at disposal places the attainment of bliss within reach. Navigating life with a mindfulness that strives for harmony between these equally essential aspects of humanity–natural and unnatural–is key to the ecstasy and peace that this artwork depicts.

The free-flowing merging of black and white photographs depicting ordinary objects into a single, cohesive work of art creates an overwhelming sense of solace while viewing it. Looking upon the artwork feels like a window into the psyche of someone experiencing peace of mind: the culmination of a series of purposeful decisions that allow the creator to absorb all the beauty of the world. The continuity and encompassing qualities of the artwork, creatively achieved by spanning multiple stories and walls in the SOTA building, implies that future evocative moments are to come.

Pictorial Redux by Joe Hedges 

Occupying the main third floor gallery of the SOTA building is Joe Hedges’ Pictorial Redux, a collection of artworks that mesh technological devices and terrestrial depictions.

The overt combination of technology and traditional art techniques Hedges uses to illustrate the world speaks to the inextricability of technology in contemporary perceptions of nature.

A style Hedges leans on heavily in the exhibit is cutting out windows for smart devices, like iPads and iPhones, to repose in the middle of paintings of natural landscapes, such as waterfalls, ocean water and vast desert fields. Looking at one of these paintings, the presence of a smart device amid a natural landscape can seem obstructive and counterintuitive to the beauty of the art, but it is a truthful statement to how technology can affect people’s perception of nature.

Technology and nature go hand in hand in the modern day. It can serve as a preview or encapsulation of one’s experience of natural beauty, depending on how one leverages it. For instance, one piece features a smart device displaying the natural landscape in digital form, forming an unblemished painting in which the illustration flows seamlessly across the device and back into the illustration, highlighting how technology can be used to eternalize a memory without spoiling the moment. Another piece depicts a waterfall with a phone screen fixed in the middle displaying waterfall related hashtags on the social media platform Instagram, an expression of how attempting to share a moment with people not present can leave a patch of memory unsatiated, as the screen infringes on the portrayal of the landscape. The idea of balance remains relevant in this gallery, as technology is an inevitable influence in people’s experiences that can skew or enhance one’s memory of them.

Other pieces in this exhibit feature instruments, audio speakers and televisions firmly among pictorial representations of natural landscapes, emphasizing the interplay of natural and factitious phenomena in our world. Whether spectating the natural world or engaging with man-made objects and faculties, people are enmeshed by a surplus of stimulating activities. In a culture that has normalized the accessibility of technology–in many ways technology has become prerequisite to a practical life–it follows that our experiences with the natural world and technology have bled into each other. This gallery is emblematic of how these different elements work in conjunction to shape perceptions of the natural world.

Abject Dreamscapes by Kyle Angel, MIR Collab and Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong.

Abject Dreamscapes is the most ambiguous of the exhibits included in Scenes From Nowhere. Located in a dimly lit and intimate gallery space, the pieces range from autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos, print photography to three dimensional arrangements.

Kyle Angel’s ASMR video features the artist dressed in drag while eating lobster, emitting spine-tingling crunches and slurps. Although the piece is quite bizarre, it is a representation of the value of multisensory perception and sensation. The outward unorthodoxy of the concept and its execution encourages open-mindedness, inspiring viewers to embrace new feelings and ways to experience the world.

Another series of pieces in Abject Dreamscapes is Dreaming of Greener Grass by Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong, which includes six resplendent photographs of fantastical and unknown settings. The perspective of the photographs peers through strands of grass-like objects, as if the photographer were inconspicuously gazing from afar. The lack of context provided in the photos—the subjects and materials composing the image are unknown—leaves the viewer to interpret what they are looking at. The necessity of creatively imagining these details to fill in the perceptual gaps makes the pieces provocative and subjective.

The final piece in this exhibit is I’ll Be There and You’ll Be Near by MIR Collab, a 3D arrangement of sparkling and colorful casted rocks and particle boards forming an unknown celestial-like landscape that sits on the floor of the gallery. The vibrant rocks scatter around and bridge the two pool-like particle boards, which comprise tones of light blue, purple and pink. The components rest in concord positions that elicit a sense of peace while standing upon this perplexing but familiar creation. Looking at the piece is equally pleasant as it is confounding, making one feel like a misplaced giant confidently stepping around a miniature alien world. One imprudent step could dismantle the piece’s cohesion, leaving one mindful of respecting the work while mulling through what it is they are viewing.

Overall, this gallery space is a testament to how open-mindedness and imagination can expand one’s breadth of perception–how learning to be comfortable in unknown territory can actually be fun and refining. The gallery speaks to the importance of a nonjudgmental mentality. Forming personal context to mysterious settings and embracing unfamiliar stimuli to make sense of the abstract is a catalyst to more enriching and diverse life experiences; when applied in other areas of life, it is an aid to lifting the conventions of how people experience the world and reiterate it for others.

For more details on “Scenes From Nowhere,” visit https://www.nku.edu/academics/sota/events/news/2022/scenes-nowhere.html.

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