By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–The Ronald Barr Gallery reopens next week with an exhibition over two years in the making, give or take.
Aptly titled “Emergence,” the show presents selected works by fifteen 2020 and 2021 Studio Arts BFA alumni who were prevented from exhibiting their thesis art due to pandemic-related health and safety restrictions that shuttered the gallery.
The exhibition runs from Monday, August 23 to Thursday, September 23. There will be a free, public reception on Thursday, August 26, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Barr Gallery.
The show features works by Kelcie Byrd, Meredith Duncan, Samantha Earley, Savannah Ferrell, Holly Gavin, Dakotah Gibson, Manuel Hernandez, Bradlee Hertrick, Merlin Lee, Ashleigh Morton, Jessie Pierson, Michael Schnieders, and Alma Martinez Torres.
The works on view span the gamut of media, from printmaking, painting and drawing to digital art and ceramics.
What they have in common is an emotional resonance linked to the pandemic; while it did not inspire most of these works, the life stories that surround them were influenced by it, and so also the works themselves, in their delayed and roundabout journey to light, are indelibly of this moment.
For the artists, the pandemic and its closures created a variety of challenges. First, the emotional wrench of preparing a performance for an audience that doesn’t show up.
“Because we are a visual medium, the idea that people may not see what we’re showing can be both discouraging and disconcerting,” said Samantha Earley, who earned a BFA in printmaking. “So getting to show our work at the end of our program is sort of like finishing a quest: It’s how we show what it is that we’ve learned in the program, and also how we show the concept of message that we’re hoping to get across.”
For Earley, the quest began earlier. Her work–an exploration of the success stories of species that have rebounded from the brink of extinction–became intertwined with the pandemic itself.
She saw in the efforts to save those species the same kind of cooperation–on the part of individuals, scientists, governments, businesses–that she witnessed in the drive to save humanity from the ravages of the coronavirus.
“At a time when life in the United States was particularly bifurcated and tenuous, working on a project that showcased groups that came together to help life continue–be that life a minnow or a flower or a bird–seemed important,” Earley said.
Ashleigh Morton, whose work, “Dissonance” formed part of her BFA in Drawing and Painting in 2020, experienced pandemic-related disruptions to her creative process.
“You are so used to communicating with multiple people while in process, so to suddenly not have that makes you have to work through issues a bit differently,” Morton said.
Working full-time and moving after graduation didn’t help her art, either. In fact, she was unable to make art for many months. Now “back in the swing of things,” Morton appreciates the opportunity to recapture a moment she assumed had been lost.
“This body of work is usually the first step into showing who you are as an artist outside of the program, and what you want to talk about going forward,” Morton said. “So after putting all this creative energy and time into it, having your thesis show is a big deal.”
For Earley, Morton and the other 13 artists whose works make up the show, “Emergence” is a testament to the resilience of the creative spirit.
Homepage photo: Samantha Earley, “Eggert’s Sunflower (Helianthus eggerti), artist book, relief print, 2021.