The word conversation implies the transfer of language between individuals. Conversation, however, can assume a variety of forms. Art allows for a different form of conversation limited by the bonds of language and numbers. In this particular conversation, words and symbols give way to the senses. The interplay between color, medium and technique represents thoughts and emotions in ambiguous ways more traditional means of conversation cannot.
The exhibition “Satellites,” installed in the Porter Butts Gallery, celebrates the work of photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen after seven years spent traveling through the reaches of post-Soviet Russia.
“Satellites” asks its audience, “How do you go about reclaiming space from an ideology?” explained UW senior Nicole Rodriguez, director of the Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee. In Russia, though the regimes of Stalin, Lenin and other Soviet leaders have fallen, the country continues to rebuild and define itself in the modern era. Bendiksen’s work seeks to capture on film the psychological and physical reinvention of Russia.
“Bendiksen draws attention to oblique areas of Russia,” said UW junior Sally Haulfmann, assistant director of Membership and Installation for the WUD Art Committee.
As described by Rodriguez, there “is an apparent absence of something in Bendiksen’s work.” This absence serves to challenge and intrigue the viewer. There is magnetism present in Bendisken’s photographs. Russia is seemingly engaged in a powerful pull toward the future while at the same time experiencing the extreme influence of its past.
Especially representative of this dual pull is the photograph “ABKHAZIA. Sukhum. 2005.” “[The picture] has an atmosphere of ease, but a tanker borders on the corner,” Rodriguez said. “This is not a beach scene, but the remnant of something else that hasn’t disappeared.”
The success of this show is evident not only in the haunting quality of its images, but also in the careful coordination of picture pairings. In this regard, the Bendiksen show is sublime. The pictures feed off each other drawing strength from complimentary color pairings. The coordinated flow of warm and cool colors between paintings — “Uzbekistan. 2003.” with “ABKHAZIA. 2005. Sukham.” and “Abhazia. 2005.” with “Abkhazia. 2005. Gagra.” respectively, at the center of the Bendisken show — speaks to this successful attention to detail. The carnavalesque playfulness evident in the Porter Butts Gallery enables a worthwhile conversation with any potential viewer.
Parallel to “Satellites” in the Class of 1925 Gallery resides Joe Meiser’s show “Egress Immerse.” This conversation is much more fragmented and disassociated than Bendiksen’s work. “Egress Immerse” is a compilation of Meiser’s favorite pieces, partially explaining the disconnected feel of the exhibition.
A standout piece in this exhibition includes “Untitled” made in 2007 of polymer clay, epoxy resin and wood. Also available for viewing among other works is the statue “Trophy for Religious Violence” and the 72-minute video “Transcendence Research and Other Pursuits of the Immaterial.”
Similar to Meiser’s self-generated narratives, Tyanna Buie’s work, which focuses on childhood memories and family dynamics, can be found featured in the Lakefront on Langdon Gallery. The motivation for Buie’s work is escapist. By using art as a medium of release, Buie creates a range of imaginative print worlds. Washes, texture and brush techniques categorize Buie’s work. At times the colors within a painting seemed incongruous, but serve to illustrate distinction between the fore and background. This thought-provoking and disjointed effect can be observed in the monoprint “Indecently Despaired #2.”
The etching “Adolescent Remnants” is especially provocative. Like a sketch from a doodle book on parchment, various sketch outlines — ice cream cones, cars and body outlines — comprise the work. The lack of detail present allows viewers to interpret its elements in relation to their own lives. The conversation provoked by Buie’s work is one of personal reflection and the ability to overcome turmoil.
A final exhibition can be found in the Theater Gallery and features “The American Indian: American Indians in the American Imagination” curated by Brian Baker. This work features a compilation of portrayals of the Native American image in pop culture. Stereotypical images of Native Americans on herbal tea boxes, car ads and butter containers categorize the disrespect for native culture present in the country’s past. Phrases like “Keep Your Injun Running” found on an orange juice carton along with a picture of a child garbed in a headdress and feathers speak to this blatant disregard for true representation. The American Indian exhibit promotes a conversation with its audience much like a conversation between artifacts and viewers in a museum.
The Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee has facilitated vivid visual conversation with the opening of four shows: “Satellites,” “Egress Immerse,” “Assorted Recollection” and “The American Indian: American Indians in the American Imagination.” These four shows speak to the distinction between past and future, idiosyncrasies, memory and cultural interpretation. Rodriguez elaborates, “the process of all shows is a very different ongoing narrative, and [these] images persist longer than words on a page.”
Wisconsin Union Galleries Fall I Exhibitions open regular gallery hours starting Sept. 26 and run through Nov. 10. The Porter Butts and Class of 1925 Galleries are open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The Theater and Lakefront on Langdon Galleries are available during building hours daily.