“Art is just art—what you bring to it are your perceptions,” says Dale Stewart, associate curator of the Fields Sculpture Park at the Omi International Arts Center. The guiding inspiration of the Ghent, New York, outdoor sculpture ground is the interaction (sometimes the collision) of contemporary art with the beauty of the Columbia County countryside. The site offers 90 acres of farmland dotted with sculpture installations ranging from the sublime to the bizarre.
Omi’s newest exhibit, “Bivouac,” turns the concept of art in nature on its head. Instead of a gambol through what at times feels like a maze of art, “Bivouac” instills the sense of intruding into some makeshift community. That’s exactly what’s happening, according to Max Goldfarb, artist and chief organizer of the exhibit. “Viewers leave towns and cities [and] escape to a pastoral destination,” he says. “Instead, they will encounter a reversal of their attention back to their wider cultural context.”
The chief aim of “Bivouac,” Goldfarb notes, is to explore how technological society encroaches upon nature, and to provoke viewers to think about the materialism of global culture. The sense of building from the ground up after a catastrophe is another underlying theme, making this a “day in the park” with a serious intent.
While there are no explicitly political artworks in the show, Goldfarb observes that many of the pieces are meditations on “aggravated social conditions, and the darkness of social eclipse.” The exhibit includes the ruined remains of a roller coaster, and a lookout tower Goldfarb likens to something “erected by a mismanaged branch of FEMA.” Elinor Whidden’s Portage: Ford Taurus leaves dismantled pieces of a junked car strewn across the landscape, while Goldfarb’s Base Camp is comprised of an ancient truck sitting next to abandoned flags. At one end of the exhibit, wreckage from a downed lunar rover hangs from branches, while a makeshift still sits at the other. The still has been made inoperable now, but on opening night it reportedly provided surreptitious art lovers with some honest-to-goodness moonshine.
In her piece, I Had Made My Home by the Shore, Marie Lorenz became intimately involved with the life of Omi’s beaver pond. Lorenz waded out into the swamp and constructed a gift for the local beavers—a sturdy structure of branches and loam that could serve as home for animals or humans. Goldfarb wrote in an essay that accompanies the exhibit, “In her beaver lodge project, (Lorenz) advances the industrious engineering of the beaver: in this outsider hideaway, she postulates a reversal of nihilistic vogue, where mankind will inhabit forms appropriated from nature.”
“Bivouac’s” working theme of society gone awry is interlaced with hope, and the promise that humanity’s salvation lies in its reliance on our greatest natural asset, our wits. The Fields are open all year and are free to the public. The show is on display through June 2008.
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