Visiting the Springville Museum of Art always presents an opportunity to experience an eclectic presentation of talent, insight, and creativity within the walls of a unique structure. The building itself, with its tiled floors, arched doorways, and courtyards, prepares you upon entry for a dramatic shift from the roads taken to get there. By the time you’ve parked your car, you’ve passed aging strip malls, newly built chain restaurants, and neighborhoods that have watched developments come and go. Usually, that might not seem out of the ordinary, especially if you’ve visited before. Still, that ever-changing environment takes on a new perspective both while in the museum’s new exhibit, In Sight, Out of Mind, and even more so after you leave. That lasting effect on your perception is what makes this show an especially poignant one.
In Sight, Out of Mind focuses the viewers’ attention on the easily overlooked changes in our environment, specifically those that are the result of human activity. That idea of the “overlooked” is fundamental, as the artwork presented is not meant to speak to one specific impact of humanity, but rather the whole of it. For instance, the show’s work by 14 Utah artists doesn’t focus on suburban sprawl specifically, but its presence in the work is undeniable. Likewise, fossil fuels, water pollution, clothing manufacturing and other environmental concerns are omnipresent in all the artists’ efforts, but not the show’s sole focus. Walking through the exhibit itself causes an overwhelming feeling of the more considerable impact of human existence itself, presenting more questions and unease than definitive solutions.
Emily Larsen, SMOA’s Head of Exhibitions and Programs, was quick to point out that the element of collaboration was influential in both the formation and the execution of the exhibit. Addressing the environmental impact of human development is a worthy concept anywhere globally, but something that Utahns are particularly sensitive to as we watch the rapid growth in our state. As our population grows, our needs grow with it, and as noted in the show’s theme, those needs often cause us to overlook the environmental impact. This common challenge presents the artist with the unique opportunity to draw public attention to these matters in the best ways they can. To that end, the artists participating in this show speak both individually and collectively, with thought-provoking results.
Several works by Vincent Mattina, whose images express “what the world could look like if we continue on our current path of unsustainability,” present us with apocalyptic desolation as a warning of the future. The bleak scenario is offered by other artists as well, leaving a sinking feeling of dread at the possible endgame for humanity. The undercurrent of ignored destruction is amplified further by Stephanie Leitch’s centerpiece installation titled “Pitch Field Three.” In a small, isolated, corner room of the exhibit, the cube-like work presents a litany of threads dripping with an unknown pitch-black “emulsion” onto a large platform. The liquid reflects like a smooth mirror, creating an endless emptiness of the dripping waste. As a guest carefully navigates their way around the perimeter, wary of the dripping substance, they’re drawn into the abyss, creating a tension of curiosity and abhorrence. Should I look into it? How close can I get before I’m stained by it?
Those questions embody the feeling that stays with you after leaving the exhibit. There’s a sense that our curiosity has lulled us in as the world develops around us. The drive home doesn’t feel the same as before. I see the sunset light up the mountainside and glare across the windowed office building and spreading neighborhoods outside my car window. Isn’t it interesting that the mountainsides are being carved away? Isn’t there something innately abhorrent about that as well?
In Sight, Out of Mind, Springville Museum of Art, Springville, through August 7, 2021.
David “HABBENINK” Habben is a Salt Lake City based illustrator and artist. He is currently working on an MFA at the University of Utah.