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Published monthly by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization   

Joe Marotta, photo by Simon Blundell

Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
The Theater of Life
Joe Marotta's life in words and images

Seemingly a bit lost in the 21st century, Joseph Marotta finds a number of things wrong with now; and particularly with here. His photographs explore the concept of time – the way we experience its passing and how that experience now seems to be accelerating.

So when he retires in June from the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Utah, Marotta will spend up to half of every year in Europe—for cause: We lack a strong connection to our past, he observes, something he thinks essential to a culture. “I mean, because a building is 300 years old, they don’t knock it down,” though there might be a very contemporary clothing store right next to it.  And, he says, we’re always in a hurry here, on our cell phones, thinking about what we should be doing next, rarely sitting al fresco with a coffee or glass of wine for an hour to simply watch people walk by, to contemplate “the wonderful theater of life.”

He chooses to photograph primarily in black and white and largely in France and Italy, but writes excellent short stories in any café on a silvery laptop. It’s how he begins most days: coffee, prose, perhaps thinking about what he’s going to discuss in class. “Teaching has to be interesting for me, as well as the students.” A music aficionado, he listens to jazz, Bach and Dylan with equal avidity (well, perhaps jazz wins out here); reads poetry and serious literature (some in slightly rusty Italian); and makes small tables and tiny boxes from exotic woods – the boxes to hold the collection of classy fountain pens with which he writes. (He even uses a typewriter--manual, of course.)

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City & Box Elder County
This is Getting Serious
Zaq Landsberg's Zaqistan in the Age of Irony

I can’t tell if Zaq Landsberg is simply having a good bit of fun or actually taking himself seriously. Landsberg is the founder of an art project in Utah’s west desert called Zaqistan, which consists of two rather inaccessible acres of scrubland that has been given the meta-contextual properties of a sovereign nation—there’s a flag, a motto, national monuments, etc. And Landsberg and his crew have managed to orchestrate mention of the project in various media outlets so that, a decade in, while not exactly viral, it is building some internet steam. People might even be taking the project seriously. But as is becoming increasingly clear in the political arena, it can be a depressing world when something that begins as a joke gets taken too seriously.

In 2005, as Landsberg explains on his website, he purchased a piece of Utah desert on eBay for $610, which even in the pre-recession real estate boom seems like a bit much for a chunk of salt, sand and sagebrush two miles from the nearest dirt road. But Landsberg and friends have made good use of the parcel in the time since, making various pilgrimages to the site, probing its habitability (pretty much zero) and for the most part constructing tongue-in-cheek art projects — a victory monument, a field of plastic “wildflowers,” robot sentinels and a border-crossing gate.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Children of the Potato Eaters
Rebecca Campbell at BYU MoA

In “Dig,” a large and very colorful landscape in a portrait format, a middle-aged man, lean and strong from a lifetime of hard work, leans forward from the waist, his bare torso so shiny with sweat it reflects the sky above him. As he digs, the passion of his labor is reflected in the stormy sky. Or maybe he’s just in a hurry to get this necessary task done before rain turns his medium to mud. While I watched this timeless drama play out, a young woman came in, chatting with her preadolescent son, stopped, and stood riveted before the canvas. In a moment, we were sharing what each of us liked about the painting. We admired the way the painter’s strong brushstrokes not only defined the man’s muscles, but analogized them as instruments of power. She appreciated the curator’s point that the man’s trousers echo the color of the prairie grass behind him, and we agreed they were almost photographically rendered, as were his face and shovel. Then we pointed out to each other the mix of realistic and blatantly painted effects across the work’s entire surface. We agreed that this painting moved us, and that we were glad we could see it in person.

Nearby in the gallery are installed several parts of a project with the overall title “Two Year Supply.” The necessity of saving for an “unknown calamity” is explained, universalized, and then made specific again on the curator’s card. “Clean” is a wall of shelves lined with canning jars, each full of blue Windex meant to conjure the labor of making them fit to store food. For me, the sign reading Please Do Not Touch did more to make me think about what it took, at least for the museum’s personnel, to produce a wall of spotless glass, but the point about cleaning being an enormous yet uncelebrated task—one frequently relegated to women—was unarguable. At the same time, the blue color, lit by constantly shifting patterns of light, was hypnotic and induced an appreciative state of mind. Further afield, “Full” employed the same canning jars, this time filled with peaches and stacked—as the card pointed out, like a minimalist sculpture—so that their sheer bulk made the necessary labor and resulting, latent potential strongly felt. Here the symbolic value of preserving what is necessary is revealed and critiqued even as it’s being reinforced for those who participate. And that quickly emerges as part of Rebecca Campbell’s strength as an artist. She is able to question and even criticize the past forcefully, even as she revels indulgently in recalling so many complex and sensuous experiences.

Rebecca Campbell's "Dig"
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