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Monday, October 19, 2020

Spectrum of hope

By Schuyler Shelloner

A pale fox with wide eyes and a tortured grimace greets visitors to the latest exhibition at the Western Gallery, “Modest Forms of Biocultural Hope.” Strung from a chain by its flea collar, the fox’s ragged fur is dotted with loudspeakers, their electrical cords stripped and frayed, connected to nothing.

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The hapless fox, titled “Oracle,” is associate professor of art John Feodorov’s contribution to the exhibit. According to the gallery’s website, “Oracle” represents how many people feel about the state of the environment: horrified and isolated. But Feodorov said he doesn’t feel people are truly disconnected from nature.

“I think that’s more of a sense of disconnectedness [from nature] rather than an actual situation, because we are nature,” Feodorov said. “One could certainly argue that we’re disconnected from ourselves.”

Feodorov said he titled his piece “Oracle” because of the miniature loudspeakers attached to the fur. He said the presence of the dilapidated speakers implies they were once functional, broadcasting wisdom, prophecies and recipes for redemption.

John Feodorov’s piece “Oracle” hangs in the latest exhibition at the Western Gallery, “Modest Forms of Biocultural Hope.” // Photo by Schuyler Shelloner

Feodorov didn’t say why the cords were cut, or who cut them. He said he doesn’t think art should spell itself out, but rather provoke thought, so he leaves the mystery for viewers to decipher themselves.

On the wall opposite of Feodorov’s piece is a small square plot dotted with colorful woven balls of yarn, providing shelter for byrum moss. According to the plaque beside the piece, byrum moss is a critical component in forest restoration. The moss rehabilitates degraded forest floors and provides a framework for other species to rebuild the forest upon.

Local artist Deanna Pindell knitted the woolen balls and named them “Thneeds” after the famous story “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss. Pindell said she considers herself modestly hopeful that humans will be able to reconnect with the environment, or at least repair some of the damage. Pindell said the goal of her work is to show people that they don’t have to believe the planet’s destruction is certain.

“We can’t allow ourselves to devolve into cynicism, or else we’re done,” Pindell said.

Pindell isn’t the only contributor to offer potential solutions to current environmental woes. A few award-winning biomimicry projects are on display in an antechamber adjacent to Pindell’s colorful “Thneeds.” Biomimicry refers to industrial designs which imitate natural processes found in nature.

Several industrial design students have biomimicry projects on display, some with videos or posters of their ideas, including building panels that rotate with the sun like rhododendron leaves to regulate building temperature so energy is not wasted on heating and air conditioning.

There are also designs for pods that produce fresh water by removing salt, like plants in salt marshes. Another project mimics beehives by 3D-printing interior walls instead of using drywall, which often contains harmful chemicals.

Despite the innovations on display, professor Arunas Oslapas, whose industrial design students made the contributions, remains modest in his optimism.

He said having the technology to lower the impact humans have on the environment is one thing, but implementing it is another. Oslapas said he would like to see stronger incentives for sustainable production and consumer habits.

“If someone can make money off of cleaning the air, cleaning our beaches and cleaning our water, it’s going to happen,” Oslapas said. “What if the largest retailer in the world, Walmart, Amazon, what if they said ‘We only will sell sustainable, green products’? Wouldn’t that be amazing?”

The exhibit includes a variety of attitudes, ranging from hopelessness and fear to pride and optimism. Curator Hafthor Yngvason said that despite the variety of opinions, all of the artists and contributors agree that culture and nature are not separate.

“It’s not just nature over there, culture over here, it’s biocultural,” Yngvason said. “We are part of nature and our culture affects nature.”

Modest Forms of Biocultural Hope will be on display until Dec. 8 and includes other pieces, like glittering reefs stitched together with plastic garbage and suits of armor made entirely from dried fruit. The Western Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

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