“knowledges” Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence

Towering stacks of salvaged books, animated holograms, flickering cascades of light, installations and objects inspired by math and science, and beakers of Legos and rock candy comprise “knowledges,” a compelling exhibition at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art.

“Art is a form of knowledge that contributes to many fields of inquiry,” states the introductory panel, providing the show’s foundational concept. Featured artists Assaf Evron, Danielle Roney, Fatimah Tuggar and Andrew S. Yang created immersive, often mind-bending works that address a range of complex topics variously addressing shifts in geological, social, cultural, physical and technological realms of our world.

Yet, while jam packed with content and concept, this fascinating show is accessible to viewers of all ages and interest levels and invites us to absorb and reflect in our own way.

“It’s important to communicate that artists are researchers and provide knowledge,” said “knowledges” curator, Joey Orr, director of the Integrated Arts Research Initiative (IARI) and curator for research at KU. IARI, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was launched in 2016 at KU to support cross-disciplinary projects and exhibitions, like “knowledges,” that merge science, the humanities and art.

The Spencer Museum commissioned the artists to make work investigating four areas of research: data visualization (Evron), immigration (Roney), social histories (Tuggar) and ecologies (Yang), supported by the IARI. Geology, chemistry, discriminatory power structures, inversions of sight and sound, and envisioning mathematics are just some of the areas explored in these high impact works.

Yang explores deep time and the body in works including “Theory of the Earth Volume IV,” featuring a massive wall installation, “Deep Time Library & Archive,” of stacked salvaged books from KU’s recycling invoking Earth’s 4.45 billion years of layered, constantly shifting sedimentary rock. Another piece, “Stella’s Stoichiometry (seven years, all things renewed, 40 lbs.),” portrays the chemical composition of Yang’s daughter’s body within beakers, reinforcing our integral biological connection to our ecosystem.

Tuggar achieves a succinct, captivating critique of discriminatory systems of social hierarchies within academia in “Lives, Lies and Learning.” Within eight open desks, holograms are caricature power figures that verbalize 30-second snippets relaying Tuggar’s experiences of racism, sexism and bullying within academia.

“Strata,” Roney’s mesmerizing sculpture of cascading lights upon a mesh surface, evokes a monumental, luminous satellite. The waves of light are a generative animation by Roney interpreting anonymous recordings of immigrants’ voices. “PUBLICS,” an installation of surveillance cameras grouped in the main gallery, provides remote viewing access of the show for outside immigrant communities, enforcing an inversion between surveyor and surveilled.

Evron presents an esoteric envisioning of mathematical form through an installation of colorful photos, “Untitled (Color space),” comprising images of “color forms” which he brings into 3-d reality with numerous sculptures invoking smooth rocks, (“Untitled”), meticulously constructed with layers of MDF board.

“knowledges” continues at the Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi St., Lawrence, Kan., through Jan. 5. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and New Year’s Day. For more information, 785.864.4710 or www.spencerart.ku.edu.

Heather Lustfeldt

Heather Lustfeldt is a writer, educator and arts professional with a passion for public program development and community engagement for audiences of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Heather lives in Kansas City with her two sons.

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