Scenes From Nowhere, an art exhibition hosted by the NKU School of the Arts, runs through August 26. It includes three gallery areas: Gates of Eden by Markus Albain Pictorial Redux by Joe Hedges and Pathetic dreamscapes by Kyle Angel, MIR Collab and Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong. Each section aims to embody the subject of the pictorial representation through a contemporary and unencumbered lens.
The theme of pictorial representation – a classic but broad theme – creates a collection of artworks that represent ideas and objects that people interact with on a daily basis. Using modern technology and eclectic techniques of self-expression, the artists represented in the exhibition present works that express human feelings and perceptions in abstract terms, as the artworks are recreations of the imaginations that exist only in their minds. The ideas are executed in an unorthodox manner yet adhere to the same main theme of secular depictions, creating consistency and diversity throughout the gallery. The gallery’s flexible and imaginative aura cultivates a space that encourages viewers to be creative by engaging with and sharing their view of the world.
Gates of Eden by Markus Albain
Entering the SOTA building on the third floor and turning the corner to the right leads to a Mark Albain Overlook Gates of Eden. The piece is a site installation consisting of many small images arranged to form the sprawling overall picture that spans multiple walls.
According to the exhibit notes, the piece was inspired by the Bob Dylan song of the same name: a socially powerful song that challenges people’s blind faith in an enraptured afterlife. Despite growing up familiar with the biblical idea of Eden, Albain was motivated in early 2020 to create his version of the fabled land on Earth, fueling this project which has continued through the COVID-19 lockdown and into 2020.
The piece attempts to find a balance between the natural and man-made physical matter that surrounds us. The visual balance of these two disparate stimuli present in the artwork speaks to the importance of balancing them in our own lives. Too much emphasis on the natural world can lead to a detachment from society that leaves a person isolated; Too much emphasis on the artificial objects or man-made skills that drive society can create boredom and a false sense of purpose. The present life is the only life that is certain, and capitalizing on what is available puts the attainment of bliss within reach. Navigating life with a mindfulness that seeks harmony between these equally essential aspects of humanity—natural and unnatural—is key to the ecstasy and peace this artwork represents.
The free-flowing fusion of black and white photographs depicting ordinary objects into a single, cohesive work of art creates an overwhelming sense of solace upon viewing. Looking at the artwork feels like a window into the psyche of someone experiencing peace of mind: the culmination of a series of purposeful choices that allow the creator to absorb the full beauty of the world. The continuity and overall qualities of the artwork, creatively achieved by spanning multiple floors and walls in the SOTA building, imply that poignant moments are to come.
Pictorial Redux by Joe Hedges
In the main gallery on the third floor of the SOTA building is Joe Hedges’ Pictorial Reduxa collection of artworks that blend technological devices and earthly depictions.
The apparent combination of technology and traditional art techniques that Hedges uses to illustrate the world speaks to the inextricability of technology in contemporary perceptions of nature.
A style that Hedges draws heavily on in the exhibition is cutting out windows for smart devices like iPads and iPhones to rest amid paintings of natural landscapes like waterfalls, seawater, and vast desert fields. Looking at one of these paintings, the presence of a smart device in the midst of a natural landscape can seem obstructive and counterintuitive to the beauty of the art, but it is a truthful statement of how technology can affect how people perceive nature.
Technology and nature go hand in hand these days. It can serve as a preview or summary of one’s experience of natural beauty, depending on how one uses it. For example, one piece features a smart device that renders the natural landscape in digital form, forming a flawless painting in which the illustration flows seamlessly across the device and back into the illustration, and shows how technology can be used to create a memory immortalize without spoiling the moment. Another piece features a waterfall with a phone screen pinned in the center displaying waterfall-related hashtags on the social media platform Instagram, an expression of how trying to share a moment with people who aren’t present can leave a piece of memory unsaturated , since the screen violates the representation of the landscape. The idea of balance remains relevant in this gallery as technology is an inevitable influence on people’s experiences that can distort or enhance the memory of them.
Other pieces in this exhibition feature instruments, speakers and televisions firmly embedded in pictorial representations of natural landscapes, emphasizing the interplay of natural and man-made phenomena in our world. Whether it’s observing nature or engaging with man-made objects and skills, humans are engulfed by an abundance of stimulating activities. In a culture that has normalized the accessibility of technology – technology has in many ways become a prerequisite for practical life – it follows that our experiences of the natural world and technology have merged. This gallery is emblematic of how these various elements work together to shape perceptions of the natural world.
Pathetic dreamscapes through Kyle Angel, MIR Collab, and Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong.
Pathetic dreamscapes is the most ambiguous of the exhibits included in Scenes From Nowhere. Set in a dimly lit and intimate gallery space, the pieces range from ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos to print photography and three-dimensional arrangements.
Kyle Angel’s ASMR video features the performer dressed in drag while eating lobster while emitting goose bumps crunches and slurps. Although quite bizarre, the piece is a display of the value of multi-sensory perception and sensation. The outwardly unorthodox nature of the concept and its execution encourages open-mindedness and inspires viewers to embrace new feelings and ways of experiencing the world.
Another series of pieces in Pathetic dreamscapes is Dreaming of greener grass by Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong, containing six gorgeous photographs of fantastic and unknown locations. The perspective of the photographs peeks through grass-like strands of objects, as if the photographer were gazing unobtrusively from afar. The lack of context in the photos – the subjects and materials that make up the picture are unknown – leaves it up to the viewer to interpret what they see. The need to creatively imagine these details to fill in the perceptual gaps makes the pieces provocative and subjective.
The last piece in this exhibition is I will be there and you will be near by MIR Collab, a 3D arrangement of sparkling and colorful cast stone and chipboard forming an unknown celestial landscape that sits on the gallery floor. The vibrant rocks spread and bridge the two pool-like chipboards, which are decorated in shades of light blue, purple and pink. The components rest in matching positions that evoke a sense of peace while standing on this bewildering yet familiar creation. The play is as enjoyable as it is bewildering to watch, making one feel like a misplaced giant confidently striding through an extraterrestrial miniature world. One careless step could break the cohesion of the piece, so one must be careful to respect the work while contemplating what one is watching.
Overall, this gallery space is a testament to how open-mindedness and imagination can expand one’s perceptual breadth – how learning to be comfortable in unfamiliar territory can actually be fun and honed. The gallery addresses the importance of a non-judgmental mentality. Forming a personal context to mysterious surroundings and embracing unfamiliar stimuli to make sense of the abstract is a catalyst for enriching and more diverse life experiences; applied in other areas of life, it is a tool to break the conventions of how people experience the world and to repeat them for others.
For more details on Scenes From Nowhere, see https://www.nku.edu/academics/sota/events/news/2022/scenes-nowhere.html.