Nouns, February 8 – March 26, Salina Art Center

/Nouns/: words (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun)

Artists are social barometers; much can be discerned from a widespread exhibition of work produced within a given period of time. Considering the universal upheaval of the last few years, one might expect artists, the youth in particular, to be reflecting inwards, processing their isolation by plunging even deeper into a retrospective pool for inspiration.

However, after reviewing the images submitted for this exhibition, it was interesting, perhaps even heartening, to find many of the artists examining their external environment; observing their family and friends, their homes, natural and urban surroundings, even placing themselves in self-portraits within a larger communal context. In a sense, we seem to be re-marking our own territory, noting the people, places, and things that are once again influencing our growth and evolution.

This exploratory extroversion is apparent in ‘The After Party’, by Kailin Nielsen, a boldly colorful still life of a pair of glasses and cherries amid candy sprinkles, the detritus left in the aftermath of a now unprohibited gathering. In the oil by Claire Davidson entitled ‘Me and Noodles’, a skillful self-portrait portrays the artist in a restaurant, a common backdrop that up until a year ago would have felt disingenuous. Even some of the more opaquely introspective works are sited in a public location: Aja Wong’s cyanotype photograph, provocatively titled ‘Women are Creatures, Hence the Obituaries’, portrays an animal/human hybrid sprawled across a park bench, and the almost voyeuristic photograph of ‘Chappy’ by Abbey Graves captures a profoundly private moment in an active farm scene.

Our residual loneliness continues to be apparent though, in works like ‘College Dorm’ by Mara Fox, where a single person is sitting alone in their room, almost glitching in a disassociating world where boundaries between people, places, and things are breaking down. Equally powerful are the haunting photographs by Paola Iseley, of parking garages and bus shelters completely devoid of people or any evidence of recent human occupation. It is clear that the threat of apocalypse is still overwhelming and must be challenged on basic and primal fronts, evidenced in the bare insistence of Brooklyn Petrie’s ‘We’ve Always Been Here’.

The rigor and raw purpose in our desire to survive, as individual artists and members of a larger global community, constantly pushes us to evaluate what is most important. The creative impulse, to realize something that has not existed before, is directed by our own needs for self-actualization: we struggle to understand why we’re here and what to do with that knowledge. The work in this exhibition demonstrates that emerging regional artists are addressing these questions with courage and taking their own agency in determining what the future holds.

Elizabeth Stevenson and Patrick Duegaw

For more info, visit www.salinaartcenter.org/.

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