extraordinarily versatile, connecting seemingly dissonant elements and posing
questions about the world.
Members of the Balcony sought to explore this concept in their presentation of “Art in
Conflict” Oct. 3, their first student art show of the year. The club organizes events in the Pomona College Student Art Gallery in the Smith Campus Center. Displaying the work of talented undergraduate
artists, the exhibit examined the effects of global turmoil in unique artistic forms, ranging from performance art to sculpture to charcoal sketches. Artists provided a short written explanation of their work and followed up the exhibition with a brief question and answer session.
Students from Pomona, Pitzer and Scripps colleges contributed art to the show, adding immensely to the diversity of the exhibit.
“We put a theme out and display
whatever the artists want to show,” said Amy Ragsdale PO ’14, who co-organized
the event with Ella Yehros PO ’17. “We’re always surprised by what people
create, and this time, we had so many different interpretations of the theme.”
A number of the exhibition’s pieces were worked on by students from multiple colleges, lending to the creation of unique and complex art.
“It’s interesting to see how
people respond to the theme,” Yehros said. “Some people even collaborated with people from
other schools, and the effect is really stunning. It’s beautiful and
disorienting at the same time.”
Many pieces reflected societal
reactions to current events. One such photograph depicted police standing outside of
the courthouse during the July 2013 George Zimmerman trial, while a bright collage condemned the
racism in today’s media through pictures and text. Others were less direct but still
conveyed an intriguing message, such as a smudged city skyline, a man trapped
in a cartoonish spider web or a stained white sheet with floral detail.
One particularly interactive piece came
from a six-person group of Pomona students called Breaking the Frame, comprised of Ben Kersten PO ’15, Ben Feldman PO ’15, Adam Horowitz PO ’15, David Connor PO ‘15, Hannah Brown PO ’15 and Cole Clark PO ’16. The group used the avant-garde European Dada movement to send a message about irrationality in the modern world.
“When we heard that the theme for
this was ‘dystopia,’ we decided to do something in the realm of visual and
performance art,” Kersten said. “We decided
to channel a historical artistic movement, the Dada movement, because it was a
critique of the nonsensical war and carnage caused by World War I. It ruined
anyone’s ability to view anything rationally, and people saw how devastating
the effects of nationalism could be.”
For the presentation, the group used
an artistic technique called tableau
vivant (living picture), which mimics a painting or photography. The method
was used in nineteenth-century France and invited costumed actors to pose in order to evoke
a scene or emotion. In this tableau,
several hat-donning actors showed hostility and aggression toward each other. A cardboard collage backdrop painted with bright colors and nonsensical words illuminated the actors from behind.
After the performance, the actors
read Dada-style poems aloud.
“The poems aim to break down and
critique language and promote the disbelief of rationalism,” Kersten said. “And
that’s what we were trying to show in this performance.”
While most people enjoyed the aesthetics of the piece, many found it to be thought-provoking as well.
“I thought it was interesting how a
historic artistic movement can be just as relevant today,” Alex Woods PO ’18 said. “It
shows how art is truly universal.”
Another striking piece was a large
hanging structure entitled “Piñata (Polarization),” created by Lucas Littlejohn
PO ’17. Cardboard letters spelling the word “POLARIZATION” dangled from the
ceiling, connected by flashy garlands. A baseball bat
covered with bubble wrap rested below the words.
The prevalence of partisan politics and an increasingly divided society were the sources of Littlejohn’s inspiration. The piñata represented the flimsiness of polarizing dialogues, while the decorative
garland emphasized how many beliefs are meaningless and built on unnecessary
bravado. The bat was a suggestion to the viewer to literally break down the
structural polarization, and the bubble wrap served as a reminder of the
potential for positive change.
Littlejohn’s piece varied greatly in
terms of structure and message from that of Breaking the Frame, but the two
both pertained to a world that is moving in the wrong direction.
“Art is a way to heal, influence,
feel the fire, sway opinion,” Ragsdale said. “The pieces in the exhibit show
varying interpretations of it, which adds to the complexity of art itself.”
While some pieces used older methods
to present new ideas, others brought contemporary issues to light in a nuanced
way. The exhibit proved that while styles change over time, the desire to end
global conflict will always be relevant.
“It makes you think about issues
that we don’t think about daily, and it was really successful in showing me a
new perspective,” Woods said.