ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
M A R L I N A N D R E G I N A M I L L E R G A L L E RY
January 21 – February 6, 2014 exHibtion
February 6 – March 14, 2014
ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
Hannah Bertram reSiDencY
January 21 – February 6, 2014
MARLIN AND REGINA MILLER GALLERY
February 6 – March 14, 2014
About the Artist in Residence Program Every year The Marlin and Regina Miller Art Gallery at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania requests proposals from artists, craftspersons, and designers for the production of an original, temporary, site-specific installation for our exhibition space. The selected artist (or artist team) will be awarded $7,500. The installations will be on view during the beginning of every spring semester. Proposed artwork can be realized in any medium and there are no restrictions on form or content. However, proposals that demonstrate innovation and deep, nuanced understanding of contemporary art, craft, or design are preferred. All proposals will be reviewed for overall artistic merit, impact on the experience of our students, feasibility within the established time-frame and budget, artistâ€™s demonstration of ability to complete such a project, and the relationship of the project to the galleryâ€™s mission.
Collecting the Dust
Kutztown University students and faculty gathered the dust used to create the installation. Bertram also contributed dust from previous projects.
Bertram and student volunteers created the patterns over a three-week period.
Papers used to clean the dusted stencils were also on display.
Ashes to Ashes nicole DiDUScH
Fine Arts Major, Art History Minor, Graduate 2013
Dust; tiny floating particles in the air that blanket the world around us, quietly gathering and marking the passage of time. These particles are a part of everything, created by everything, and yet worth nothing. This is the chosen medium of Hannah Bertram, resident artist in the Marlin and Regina Miller Gallery of Kutztown University. Bertramâ€™s dust installation is of a series of similar, sight specific works that address the concept of impermanence and question how we assign value. The dust is collected, documented, sifted, and slowly and meditatively laid out on the ground in intricate patterns and deigns. The delicate and ornate patterns on the ground are shockingly vulnerable to encounters with oblivious visitors or natural elements, each of which could degrade the pristine quality of the work. This obvious endangerment of the installation causes the viewer to recognize the fleeting nature of the work and incur longing for its impossible preservation. The chosen location of the installation being on the floor causes it to be so inconspicuous that one would nearly walk through it without realizing that it is there. The dust becomes so transformed that the viewer is then torn between the need to test its vulnerability with a slight nudge of the toe and to step carefully around to maintain it. When entering the gallery, the viewer is presented with the entire life of the installation up to that point. Careful documentation of the locations and types of dust gathered, the remnants of the process used to lay it on the ground, and the eventual recording of its demolition are all included as a part of the installation. Bertram goes to great extents to ensure that the viewer is fully aware of the medium, where it came from, what it became, and where it returns. In other words,
it is nothing, becomes something, and then becomes nothing again. By emphasizing this life cycle of the dust, Bertram presents a metaphor for our own existence. â€œAshes to ashes and dust to dustâ€? is in this case a very literal analogy; it is a memento mori which implies the fact that we too are impermanent just like the installation. The patterns chosen by Bertram to arrange the dust into are borrowed from decadence. Persian rugs, Art Deco themes, and other motifs found on luxurious objects of the past are all images that imply wealth. These patterns and imagery appear to indicate stature or sophistication. By recreating these patterns in dust, Bertram elevates the dust to a higher status and ties it to art history. Bertram utilizes this abundant yet seemingly worthless medium, dust, and arranges it in such a transformative way that it is then given value. This brings us to question what makes something valuable. Is it the object itself or what the object represents? Certainly the dust cannot be commoditized or given a value, yet this installation implies that value is present, thereby presenting another conflict to the viewer. The installation is outside of the traditional art market. It is something that is meant to be experienced first hand. It cannot be bought or sold, it merely exists for a given amount of time and is swept away and recycled back into the world as if it were never there. Experiencing and understanding the ephemeral artwork is the value of the piece, just as the transitory state of the dust assigns value to the material. This complex installation reveals layers of meaning and creates several internal conflicts within the viewer. Bertram beautifully illustrates larger concepts of universal meaning with the least likely material.
The final dust patterns were on view to the public from February 6 through March 14.
“Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.” –William Butler Yeats, The Celtic Twilight, 1902
Haboobs and Arabesques: Hannah Bertram’s Dust Daniel Ha x all , Ph.D.
Associate Professor Of Art History Kutztown University Of Pennsylvania
In one of her journals, New York School artist Anne Ryan wrote, “housework = endless mechanical stupidities. At least one-fourth of one’s life is spent keeping dirt at a distance.” Despite Ryan’s disdain for domestic chores, housecleaning has become a major industry in America—the Swiffer line of sweepers and dusters generates nearly $500 million annually. The avoidance of dust—particles of soil, pollen, fibers, human hair and flesh—occupies much of our time and pocketbooks, and an accumulation of the material in the home often reads as a reflection of a person’s moral character. Historically, cleanliness operated as an indicator of social status, with prestige afforded to households maintained immaculately by private staffs, while virtue also was ascribed to hygiene. Indeed, dust is to be avoided, lest one becomes accused of laziness, poverty, and depravity. Yet from this debased matter, Hannah Bertram fashions decorative floor patterns and tabletop ornamentations. Selected for Kutztown University’s annual residency program, Bertram spent several weeks with students painstakingly covering the floor of the Marlin and Regina Miller Gallery with floral arabesques and geometric patterns comprised of dust. The material was gathered by Bertram during travels to Norway, and students from vacuum cleaners, fireplaces, college apartments, and art studios. Thus, the medium might consist of the residue of everyday life, while it simultaneously consists of the by-products from art materials such as plaster, wood, graphite, and charcoal. Some of the dust was exhibited in
vials on pedestals as archaeological artifacts or scientific specimens, while the bulk of it was sorted by color—light gray, dark black—and then sifted through stencils onto the Miller Gallery floor. The templates were planned through drawings, featuring organic, patterned decorations as well as geometric designs. At the conclusion of Bertram’s installation, students ceremoniously swept the floor, destroying weeks of labor in a few brief moments. The scent of dust permeated the gallery and a surprisingly small pile of matter remained, allowing visitors to realize how a tiny amount of ashen debris can gather and form patterns. Dust carries particular significance in Bertram’s native Australia, where several highly publicized storms of red soil and sand blanketed areas of the continent in 1983, 2009, and 2013 respectively. These weather events, often referred to as haboobs by meteorologists, derive from droughts and result in thousands of tons of soil being relocated. The association of dust with crop failure should be familiar to Americans, with the Dust Bowl of the 1930s producing “black blizzards” of eroded earth throughout the Great Plains. Yet where these dust storms stem from agricultural decay, Bertram’s dust produces foliate environments where flora and fauna come to life. A material associated with loss and decay becomes a medium of beauty and decoration, even if brief in its existence. Many of Bertram’s design components stem from her upbringing and exposure to two prominent figures in Australian art history, Florence Broadhurst (1899-1977) and Margaret Preston (1875–1963). As a singer and dancer, Broadhurst traveled the world throughout the 1920s, performing in Southeast Asia and China before opening a dress shop in London. In 1949, she settled in Sydney and devoted her energies to painting, exhibiting widely for the next decade before opening a wallpaper studio in 1959. The wallpapers were produced on a bold scale, hand printed, and featured vibrant colors and patterned
floral or geometric motifs. Broadhurst’s company became an international success and still operates today, selling fabric, wallpaper, handbags, jewelry, and attire. In addition to Broadhurst, Bertram drew upon the work of Margaret Preston, a modernist painter and printmaker known for still-life representations of flowers and aboriginal references. Preston’s works demonstrated her exposure to Post-Impressionism and Expressionism while traveling in Europe during the first decade of the twentieth century and also inspired Bertram’s abstracted naturalism. Beyond Australia, Bertram’s installation carries the influence of Conceptual and Process Art from the 1960s and 1970s. In particular, she draws upon the dematerialization of art, Lucy Lippard’s famous discussion of artists who abandoned traditional media while engaging chance, disorder, and the ephemeral. Indeed, her dust installation is fleeting and deteriorates throughout the exhibition, challenging the careful preservation of art throughout history. Furthermore, the creation of the work on the floor reorients our traditional mode of spectatorship. Rather than viewing paintings or photographs hung on the wall, or sculpture standing upright, we instead direct our attention down towards our feet. These attributes recall John Cage’s celebration of Navajo sand painting for its temporary nature and horizontal orientation, as well as Carl Andre’s Minimalist floor sculptures. The ephemerality of her dust further connects Bertram to Ana Mendieta’s landscape performances where traces of her body are washed away by water or covered with vegetation. Félix González-Torres also created artworks addressing the AIDS epidemic intended to be transitory, utilizing the impermanence of his installations as metaphors for the disease and loss of life. Yet Bertram engages the decorative in a way that distinguishes her art from the historical avant-garde. During the heyday of modernist abstraction, ornamentation was considered taboo because art supposedly originated from the artist’s psyche or ego, and the expressive or intellectual value of art rejected the
decorative as meaningless visual design. Bertram effectively challenges this bias, framing the language of the avantgarde—impermanence and fragility, found objects and installation formats—within craft traditions too often ignored by the elitist art world. This dialogue with art history forces viewers to consider what we value, an aspect furthered by Bertram’s selection of the materials we typically discard. Bertram is one of a growing number of contemporary artists to employ dust as a medium. Chinese artist Xu Bing poignantly utilized it in an installation commemorating the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, collecting debris from lower Manhattan, fashioning it into a doll before grinding the doll back into dust, and spreading it across the gallery floor with a leaf blower. Like Bertram, he uses a stencil to shape the material’s accumulation, however Xu Bing formed his into the poetry of Hui-neng (638-713). A major figure in Zen Buddhism, Hui-neng asks: “As there is nothing from the first, where does the dust itself collect?” The association of dust with wartime destruction appears frequently in contemporary art, as illustrated in the photography of Wafaa Bilal. For his The Ashes Series (2009), which was featured in the Miller Gallery’s 2012 exhibition, Out of Rubble, Bilal painstakingly recreates domestic interiors from the recent wars in Iraq. These miniatures stem from press photographs of burned out mosques and Saddam Hussein’s palace among others, while scattered atop the tableau are twenty-one grams of human ash. The amount of this material derives from the idea that the human body loses twenty-one grams of weight at death indicating the departure of the soul. Bilal’s act of rebuilding these sites and photographing them parallels the practice of Vic Muniz, an artist who fashions detailed artworks from everyday objects, such as food and trash, before shooting and exhibiting the prints.
The repurposing of domestic debris also aligns Bertram with Serena Korda, a British artist who featured in the 2010 exhibition, Dirt: the Filthy Reality of Every Life, at London’s Wellcome Collection. Here, Korda gathered dust from homes and businesses, fashioning it into 500 blocks in homage to London’s history of brick making. In addition to displaying stacks of bricks, Korda arranged for performances and video documentation of the creation of these forms as well as their consecration in dance and musical events. Like most artists working with sand, dirt, or dust, the project is ephemeral, as Korda buried the bricks after a funeral procession, thereby returning her dust to the earth. Perhaps with these examples in mind, the next annual conference of the Southeastern College Art Association will feature a panel devoted to dust, indicating its currency in the contemporary scene. In addition to material considerations, Bertram’s installations parallel others working with dust today. Croatian artist Igor Eškinja decorated the floors of museums in Bremen, Germany, and New York City with household particles to replicate patterned rugs. For the Museum of Art and Design’s 2012 exhibition, Swept Away: Ashes, Dust, and Dirt in Contemporary Art, Eškinja fashioned dust into a schematic footprint of Ellis Island, the iconic point of entry for countless immigrants. He sourced his project by having the museum’s custodial staff collect dust and dirt from the gallery floors. This “living thing” links contemporary museum goers to their ancestors, as he explains: “The dust that was collected from the museum contains all the various DNA from the thousands of people who visited the museum in the last few months. And these people are all descendants of people who some generations before passed through Ellis Island. In this particular instance the dust that makes up the island is ironically from the descendants rather than immigrants.” In this way Eškinja reminds us of the interconnectedness of the human race through soil, a visceral engagement with the past by virtue of our bodily remains.
The exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design also featured artists manipulating sand into mandala patterns. A custom within Hindu and Buddhism, mandalas are often created in meditative rituals, resulting in the creation of a spiritual space symbolic of the cosmos. While this artistic tradition inspired Bertram, her work for the Miller Gallery differs from the colored sand installations of Joe Mangrum and his conventional mandalas, or Elvira Wersche’s geometric mosaics made from historically significant residue, including that from holy shrines and sacred sites. Unlike Xu Bing and Wersche who both utilized ash from Lower Manhattan’s Ground Zero, Bertram avoids the weight of specific historical associations. Instead, her dust was gathered from local interiors as well as during her various travels abroad, forcing a consideration of daily life and the nature of our material existence. Nonetheless, this history is impossible to escape because, as Charlie Brown reminds us in his defense of Pig-Pen in A Charlie Brown Christmas, we walk the same earth as our forebears: Frieda: “I can’t go on, there’s too much dust. It’s taking the curl out of my naturally curly hair.” Charlie Brown: “Don’t think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babyon. It staggers the imagination. He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchudnezzar.” Pig-Pen: “Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn’t it?” Just as Charlie Brown encourages Frieda to reconsider Pig-Pen’s mess, Hannah Bertram revises and enlivens a material associated with waste and debasement. Common dust becomes reimagined as an object of beauty, elevated to the timeless and exalted position of art, however tenuous and transient that position might be.
Students organized a public act of sweeping a majority of the stenciled gallery floor during the last week of the exhibit; a corner was saved from this initial sweep. On the final day, students sifted the collected dust on to the remaining stencil and did a final sweep using their own materials.
The Clean Up
Hannah Bertram Hannah Bertram completed a Bachelor of Fine Art in 2003 and a Master of Fine Art in 2005 at RMIT Melbourne. Her ephemeral works have been widely exhibited throughout Australia and Internationally. She is currently a lecturer at Deakin University Melbourne. She is represented by 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong. w w w. h a n n a h b e r t r a m .c o m
P R I N T M A K I N G I N V I TAT I O N A L
Kutztown University The Marlin and Regina Miller Gallery of Kutztown University presents significant and professionally executed solo and group exhibitions of contemporary art in a variety of mediums as well as supporting programs, events, and services that will directly enhance the artistic and philosophical development of our students and our community. We strive to challenge assumptions and stimulate discussion by presenting artwork and programs relevant to the social and cultural life of the general and special populations within our service area. Located an hour north of Philadelphia, and two hours west of New York City, KU has an enrollment of 10,000+ students. Each year, our College of Visual and Performing Arts awards approximately 225 undergraduate degrees in Communication Design, Fine Arts, Art Education, and Crafts. Our Visual Arts programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
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