Material Transformation: art and environmental awareness

Dario Bucheli, Contributing Writer

Marilyn Waligore's piece "Aluminum #6" (2014), archival pigment print on cotton rag. Photo by Dario Bucheli.

Art has always reflected the time and the culture in which it was produced. It provides insight into the concerns of every generation of artists who sought to express their ideas through their craft. The most recent art exhibition in the Haggerty Gallery, “Material Transformation,” exemplifies this through the works of two artists who present the viewer with a reflection on global warming and mankind’s impact on the environment.

One of the artists in the show, Brittany Ransom, lives and works in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and is an art professor at Southern Methodist University. She specializes in arts and technology, which can be seen in her current show. The pieces are the result of a recent residence program in the Arctic Circle, in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard. During her time there, her only means of documentation were her iPhone and its built-in camera, tools that narrowed the way she could create her pieces.

One of her pieces on display, “Roughly 9 Translation Series,” is a fascinating collection of sculptures that sit on the ground and resemble glaciers floating in the water. The viewer is given a bird’s-eye view of the landscape. To create this piece, Ransom began with a digital photograph taken with her iPhone camera, which she used to create a full 3-D scan of the glaciers through an open source application. With this information, she mathematically translated them into two-dimensional pieces, which were finally cut out of acrylic. When the pieces fit together to complete the sculptures, their shapes are only vaguely recognizable and some are almost indistinguishable from the original glaciers.

Ransom’s piece presents the viewer with a reflection on our culture’s dependence on smartphones. However, her piece also speaks about something much deeper. During the opening reception, she commented that her piece is more about the process of creation: starting with a digital image of the real glacier, the final product had to undergo a long series of manipulations during which it lost most of its original form. It also represents the changing states of water, from solid to liquid, that, when seen in reference to the issue of global warming, become a matter worthy of consideration.

The second artist, Marilyn Waligore, is a Dallas-based photographer and art professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. The pieces that she is exhibiting are part of a body of work titled “Utopian Dilemma: Upstream/Downstream.” These are a series of digital prints on cotton rags in which she depicts a series of aluminum cans of different consumer products. These cans have been shaped and joined together to form abstract shapes. The way in which the artist arranged the composition and the lighting in addition to her use of color present the viewer with several visually mesmerizing pieces.

Waligore commented that these photographs are largely about the process of realizing man’s impact in the environment. The aluminum cans, which she used to create the pieces, were collected from streets during walks around her neighborhood; she then transformed these commonplace materials into reclaimed sculptural forms. By photographing these sculptures, she seems to reference the role of photography in recording and fixing objects that are fleeting in their nature.

Several of the pieces have identifiable labels, which remind the viewer of the cans’ origins and purposes and the manner in which our daily activities have palpable impacts on the environment. They speak about our contemporary consumer society, in which mass-produced goods are integrated into the core of our lifestyle. Once seen as a sign of prosperity, these consumer goods, and our manner of disposing of the remnants, now seriously threaten our environment.

These environmental threats have been discussed widely among the global community.

“Recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements,” said Pope Francis in his latest encyclical.

Like these artists, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the repercussions our actions can have in the global climate, and to reject the notion that man has absolute domination over other creatures.

These two artists acknowledge, praise and condemn different aspects of our present culture; at the same time, their creative work invites the viewer to a deeper contemplation. They seek to express their concerns, in hopes of instilling in the viewer a greater awareness of his place in relationship to the environment and, ultimately, to bring forth change for the greater good of all.

The exhibition “Material Transformation” runs until September 27, 2015. The Beatrice M. Haggerty Art Gallery hours are: 10:00 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday


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