Today, human impacts on the environment are increasing. However, artists in Chautauqua’s School of Art Residency Program are showing how they have been influenced by their environments.
Residents are showcasing their work in the second part of the “Connections II: CVA School of Art Residents Exhibition,” which opens today on the second floor of the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center. The exhibition features pre-season work from 20 of the 41 resident artists. A reception with the exhibiting artists will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. today in Fowler-Kellogg.
Every summer, the Chautauqua School of Art gives emerging artists the opportunity to showcase their work, and to hone their skills through performances, lectures and projects. From 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 4, Friends of CVA hosts its annual Stroll through the Arts Gala, which supports the program. Tickets for the event can be purchased at Strohl Art Center or online.
Rebecca Marsh, “Connections II” curator and curatorial fellow at CVA, explained how the second part of the exhibit compares to “Connections I,” which opened July 1.
“Part II is similar in the sense that it is also talking about connections,” she said. “However, the difference for me, personally, is that with Part II, I got to have deeper conversations with all of the exhibiting artists.”
Since the first part of the exhibition opened Week One, Marsh said that she didn’t have the opportunity to get to know many of the artists. But through studio visits and other activities as the season has progressed, she’s had the opportunity to more thoroughly learn about each artist’s unique identity and work.
“I think this specific exhibition is more heavy in terms of identity and culture,” she said. “Some of the topics can be heavy, but I’m hoping through placement and curation that there can be dialogue around these contemporary themes.”
Marsh said that a common theme throughout the exhibit is environmentalism.
One artist in the showcase is Sabrina Haertig Gonzalez.
“I came here because I heard that Chautauqua has an incredible residency program because of its diverse cohort,” she said. “They provide a wide range of opportunities, like welding facilities, ceramics and studio visits with leading faculty.”
Gonzalez recently graduated with her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornell University, and she is drawn to sculpture work.
“I gravitated toward sculpture because I think there is something inherently wonderful about it,” she said. “You have to confront the materiality of the world — the politics, economic and social consequences of where your material comes from and what histories are embedded.”
Sculpting gives artists the freedom to choose their own materials, and Gonzalez believes that this freedom comes with a responsibility. While there is still some escapism in painting and other mediums, in sculpture, she said that the artist is immediately implicated with a responsibility to be cognizant of the materials they are using.
In Gonzalez’s abstract steel and rebar sculpture of a drawer featured in the exhibit, she highlights the exploitation of Latinx communities for labor in the U.S. poultry processing industry. The drawer contains charred chicken bones, symbolizing this exploitation.
Today, Latinx communities make up a large percentage of workers within the poultry processing industry; they depend on the industry both economically and physically.
“I’m very concerned about our generation’s presence and agency,” Gonzalez said. “I did a whole series on the intersectionality between poultry processing and Latinx culture, which is poultry heavy. It’s this weird cannibalism of one’s own labor when you not only depend on the food for your culture, but also have to work in those abusive environments.”
Gonzalez views sculpture as a way for minority groups and traditionally marginalized communities to reclaim their power and agency in systems that have historically excluded and exploited them — sculptures can give a silent voice to voiceless communities.
“I feel with sculpture it’s a way of public intervention, you’re deciding how the world should look,” Gonzalez said. “Anything in the physical world feels so powerful, like it’s commanding our presence and attention and showing that we deserve to have a space and a voice.”
Marsh said that another common theme in the exhibition is identity. In her charcoal self-portrait, “The things left Unsaid,” artist Abigail Nasari draws upon her Tanzanian-American heritage by depicting the tension and intersectionality between her two identities.
“I am originally from Tanzania, but I went to an American-based school,” Nasari said. “The drawing is a reflection of my experience coming to the U.S. for the first time, but still being raised in an Americanized cultural environment back home.”
Nasari’s current area of focus is charcoal drawings. Unlike other artists, she submerges her charcoal into water, giving it a paint-like appearance on the canvas.
Even though every resident artist comes from a different background and environment, connections can be drawn between all the pieces.
“It’s really all about a deeper connection and representing these artists in a way that does them each justice individually, but also gives a shared understanding of the time we live in,” Marsh said.