Exhibit preview: GCAC exhibit showcases some of Columbus’ finest

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From the July 3, 2014 edition

The 2014 Greater Columbus Arts Council Visual Arts Exhibition highlights six local artists who were recipients of the 2013 GCAC Individual Artist Fellowship Awards. These artists will be on display at the Columbus Museum of Art through September and nicely convey the breadth of practices in the local arts community.

The 2013 recipients are Shannon Benine, Clara Crockett, Evan Dawson and Shane Mecklenburger. Two others, Laura Alexander and Kaveri Raina, were awarded GCAC residencies in Dresden, Germany. Alexander leaves Saturday and Raina is already working in Dresden. The group’s work consists of illustration, photography, video installation, sculpture, cut paper and painting.

While each artist’s work is thought-provoking and captivating, Alexander’s massive cut-paper piece titled “The Weight of Winter” immediately grabs the eye upon entering the gallery space. The top layer of white paper is meticulously incised, with gold leaf backing it for a hypnotic allure.

Alexander usually makes intricate cuts in multiple sheets of white paper and layers them to manipulate light and shadows. This piece represents a new approach.

“Most of my work is white on white. I love winter and snow, the white blanket on everything. But this winter was incredibly brutal to me so I was ready for a little bit of sunshine. I used the gold [because] the inspiration came from the little bit of sun you’d see coming through the clouds [in winter],” Alexander said during a phone interview. “I’m a material-based artist and I just kept having this vision of the gold leaf.”

Even though Alexander may have just been looking to find a little sunshine, it may lead her in a new direction. She’s “playing around” with more gold (and silver) leaf and may expand on that while in Dresden, but Alexander already has an outline for her in-residency.

“For me I only put color in if it really needs it because it’s so much more about the materials, the shadows and the shapes. My proposal for Dresden was to collect patterns each day and make pieces that incorporate [those]. It could be architecture or a piece of art, or it could be shadows on the ground,” Alexander said.

The three hauntingly beautiful photographs of Hawaiian landscape, part of Benine’s ongoing “Kalaupapa” endeavor, are another enthralling display at the GCAC exhibit. The story behind them is even more compelling.

Benine’s grandparents live in Molokai, Hawaii, and she would regularly travel from her hometown of Seattle to visit. After learning the history of the region, specifically that those afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were banished to the Kalaupapa peninsula from 1866-1969, Benine knew her social documentary photography should tell the story.

“What’s so fascinating about the peninsula right now is that it’s the end of this very traumatic history and story. Only the last remaining patients [are] left,” Benine said, referring to the thousands who were forced to live segregated because Hansen’s disease was so misunderstood and is actually one of the least communicable of all infectious diseases. “As a documentarian and a storyteller I wanted to get across this neglected, traumatic history.”

Benine, an associate professor of photography at CCAD, felt the best way to tell the story of Kalaupapa was by photographing the landscapes and scenery. The area has remained completely “untouched” because development didn’t occur, which created beautifully stunning landscapes, but also conveyed a sense of its harrowing past.

“I didn’t choose to show any [patients or residents on the peninsula] in the exhibit because all of my projects start from a place of sincerity and integrity, and to do justice to a portrait I need to spend time and create a relationship with my subjects,” Benine said.

Benine will return to Molokai this winter for a month to continue the project and may take some portraits for exhibition, only if those portraits fight against the stigma of Hansen’s disease.

Rounding out the exhibit is Crockett’s pencil drawings of human and canine figures that feel like the everlasting battle of man vs. nature; Mecklenberger’s video of mesmerizing fields of computer-generated diamonds; Dawson’s sculptural gestures born from material circumstances of everyday life; and Raina’s abstractions painted with materials like turmeric, chili powder and cinnamon.

The GCAC’s Arts Fellowships program was established in 1986 and recognizes outstanding Columbus-area artists with funding for a host of areas, including but not limited to, professional development, supply and travel grants. Since its inception, the fellowships have been awarded to more than 150 artists in disciplines including visual arts, crafts, film and video, creative writing, music composition and choreography/movement arts.

Photos courtesy of the artists