Remembering Let It Go

For an artist, the end of an exhibition must be like a small tragedy. The product, so carefully planned, arranged and presented, will never be reconstructed in quite the same way. When an exhibit is dissembled, a door closes forever on the moment in time when the artist establishes a connection with the viewer. All that’s left is memory.

The transitory nature of art and its reliance on memory were a few of the ideas prof. Cuni (visual arts) and her undergraduate assistant Toma Cernea-Novac ’14 grappled with in a recent exhibit To Let it Go, To Let it Go, part of the Feick Arts Center’s recent faculty show.

The exhibition was challenging in its complexity—components included Cuni’s oil painting Natura Immorta III, a video presentation showing images of the painting as it developed from start to finish, a literary prompt from the Mary Oliver poem “In Blackwater Woods,” and a related installation in a study room on the second floor of Griswold library.

Cuni described Toma, who is studying philosophy and art through the College’s progressive program, as a true collaborator. “He really helped solve some of the basic conceptual and practical problems with the piece,” she said.

The multi-venue exhibit was one way to break free from the confines of a group show—the variety of media presented in one space can break down the context each individual piece deserves.

The exhibit was anchored by Natura Immorta III, Cuni’s oil painting of a kitchen in an advanced stage of dilapidation. (The composition is based on an interior photograph she took of a New Haven, Conn. house for a program that rehabilitates abandoned residences for low-income people). Viewing the screen placed in the corner of the Feick, viewers could watch a loop of 10 images of the painting as it evolved. The kitchen is progressively obscured by superimposed images—a pinwheel shape inspired by the1893 Chicago World’s Fair Ferris Wheel, and tree branches and other natural images, which presage the eventual triumph of nature over the human landscape.

“The concept was to imagine the carrying out of disintegration–a space caught in time the moment before it falls apart,” said Cuni.

Viewers of the video loop were invited to walk to the adjacent Griswold library for the second part of the exhibit in Study Room 27, carrying with them a small slip of paper with the message “let this go.” At first, Cuni and Toma worked on an elaborate puzzle of paper forms derived from photos of the painting to install in an inside wall of the Griswold space.

“It was extremely labor intensive and conceptually just wasn’t working—instead of disintegration we were making the forms more concrete. It was the opposite effect of what I intended,” said Cuni.

Cuni and Toma decided to create a single large charcoal drawing of the painting. Tomas came up with the idea of creating a faux wall as a backdrop to the drawing. Using pages of books discarded by the library, he painstakingly pasted the pages together using a flour, water and sugar mixture.

A New York City native, Toma attended the Manhattan City-As-School high school, which places an emphasis on hands-on learning. He also took sculpture classes at Cooper Union. He came to GMC intending to study sustainable agriculture, but was drawn back to his interest in art and philosophy. As one of 16 undergraduate research assistants on campus, he has the opportunity to develop skills and experience as he assists Cuni with 160 hours of project time over the academic year.

“At first I was disturbed by cutting up all these beautiful hardcover books,” said Toma “but it actually worked well with the overall theme of disassembly.”

Viewers at the video in the Feick were prompted by slips of paper with a passage from the Oliver poem reading “you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes, to let it go. To let it go.” Audience members were invited to take the slip of paper with them to the installation in Griswold.

“Part of the show is about memory—how you remember particular pieces. There may be some ‘breakages” for the participants in the transition from the Feick to the library. But that’s how memory often works—what happens along the way affects your memory of the original vision.”

Participants were asked to hold the image of the painting in their minds as they walked to Griswold. They were prompted close the door of the small room , sit down on a cushion on the floor and meditate on the memory.

When the exhibit closed November 10, the floor was littered with small slips of paper.

“Art can be the perfect intellectual playground to grapple with life’s really difficult issues,” said prof. Jess Cuni. “Art can have a healing power though its creation—hopefully some of that transfers to the experience of each audience member.”

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