Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The University of Pennsylvania Graduate Humanities Forum is presenting the exhibition “In the Beginning: Exploring Origins in Contemporary Art” which is centered around the theme of Origins. The show runs from February 4-29, with a the closing reception to be held on Friday, February 29, from 5-7.

"Body" a suspended sculpture by Tanya Bell is on exhibition. I met Tanya last summer when I currated an exhibition in Southampton, NY at Gallery 848.

BELL’S WORK: Bell was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and immigrated to the United States in 1988. Spending the earlier part of her life in a society permeated with injustice gave her a unique outlook on social problems in an extreme situation. Reflecting on her disdain for a dysfunctional social structure (from a humanitarian perspective) has been instrumental shaping her ideals and has facilitated a more intimate relationship with God. The predominant theme she broaches through her art work is the conflict between the spiritual and physical realm. She contrasts the physical realm by incorporating the brutality of fire arm use, gouging, scraping and burning and using found objects like rusty nails and weathered wood which are distressed with the spiritual realm represented by the luminescent ethereal metal leaf.

BELL’S EDUCATION: Bell began her BFA degree in South Africa, at the University of the Witwatersrand, before coming to New York. She completed her undergraduate work at Hunter College, and graduate work at Pratt Institute. While at Hunter College she received a scholarship to the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris. It was during this period that her focus turned to sculpture and her developed to reflect social and spiritual concerns.

ARTIST’S STATEMENT: In my work I explore the relationship between violent destructive impulses in the world and the power of spirituality through art to overcome them. I feel that there is a delicate balance between the natural forces, human impulse (destructive and constructive), and an underlying spiritual presence in the world which assists in turning destructive aspects of our behavior into peaceful ones, the outcome being beauty and harmony. This struggle is manifested and presented in its final form in the finished piece of art work. Each piece that I make, whether it is a sculpture, painting or drawing on wood, is a result of this process. I begin with a choice of material- a piece of acrylic, a found piece of drift wood, a sheet of gold and silver leaf. I take this raw material and begin to manipulate it in accordance with its characteristics. I do not look to transform these characteristics, but rather to work with them to produce effects that are integral to and highlight their natural beauty. It is the beauty that intrigues me- the power of the art-making process to create- a process also reliant on spiritual intervention. It is Art’s power to connect with the spiritual realm that fascinates me, as it was portrayed throughout history, particularly during the Middle Ages.The panels of wood with silver leaf deal with religious subject matter, drawing iconography by analogy from Early Christian and Byzantine texts. In these texts, gold and silver leaf are used to embellish the subject matter and glorify it by sheer beauty and value. The luminous quality of the material also flattens the surface, emphasizing its two-dimensional quality and at the same time reflect it, creating the illusion of depth or dimension. The effect is literally meant to represent the spiritual world. My panels deal with this idea, breaking away from depicting these subjects in a figurative form. The shimmering surface of the material creates an illusion, an ambiguity as to the exact position of tangible surface of the panel. It is conceptual in the way that it questions the meaning of space as a physical, tangible form, and challenges our experience of perception from the physical to the spiritual.Against the silver leaf, which is cool and ethereal, I contrast the marked, darkened and more expressive raw quality of the wood itself. The methods of application are applied by scratching into the surface, slashing, gouging or applying dark smudged color to reassert the tactile quality of the surface. Sometimes these marks have been made by burning out holes in the wood with fire, or shooting through acrylic with a gun. The cool unmarked quality of the surface lies in contrast to the raw physicality of the mark making. The marks express raw emotion, pain and also suffering. They remind us of our humanity and that we ourselves are often imperfect and broken. It is through creating these visual “prayers” that I aim to overcome these feelings and tendencies in my own life and seek peace and healing through their expression.

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