The Olson Gallery features artwork offering an inside experience with Minnesotan nature.
By Jessica Nafe
If you walk into Olson Gallery, you will be pleasantly surprised to see a recently installed original sculpture that shapes like a fence with bark-exposed wood on the outside and an illuminated 15-by-20-foot room on the inside. You are invited to step inside the space and experience being “inside” the tree.
Weighing 3,500 pounds and stretching the entire 10-foot height of the Olson Gallery, this sculpture titled Confluence was made by vertically placing dozens of locally sourced lumber along the outline of a tree from Pike Island. Its creator, New York artist Seán Slemon, talked to the Bethel community on Oct. 18 about his works with a socio-political message of equal access to natural resources such as water, air, light and trees.
“These works capture moments in time,” Slemon said. “The goal is a more robust conversation about the democratic distribution of natural resources, access and ownership.”
Along with sparking conversation about equitable access to natural resources for all humans, his works focus on locality. Slemon strives to use materials and concepts important to the region where the art is installed.
“I work inside the place, not the space,” Slemon stated. “I am inspired by the people and cities surrounding me.”
The sculpture Confluence was inspired by the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, each river bringing unique history, experience and culture from their respective regions of the Midwest.
“He has a unique way of combing his ideas about a city or person with materials from that space,” said Lydia Johnson, a sophomore marketing major with minors in communication and graphic design. “All the earthy tones and materials he used throughout the gallery fit the scenery that surrounds us here in Minnesota.”
To create a piece in Minnesota, Slemon spent a couple days on Pike Island last April to find beautiful landscape for inspiration, trees for subjects, and soil for drawing. With soil, measurements, and photos in hand, Slemon flew back to New York where he spent a few months planning and creating his solo exhibition. Slemon uses a technique of drawing on paper with soil. With Pike-soil in hand, he was able to produce sketches of trees that eventually took form in the sculpture Confluence.
The balance of equity and access that Confluence emphasizes is what drew gallery director and art professor Michelle Westmark Wingard to invite Slemon to Bethel. She believes that Bethel cares for justice and equal access. “It’s important for our community to encounter and actively experience those topics,” she said.
Slemon was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated with a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Cape Town in 2001 and eventually moved to New York where he obtained his MA in Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute in New York. Slemon has completed residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture as well. In 2005, he received the Sasol New Signatures Award for emerging artists in South Africa and has had his work showcased in America, Europe, and South Africa. Slemon currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter, and continues to work as an artist, installing work all across the country.
The exhibition at Bethel’s Olson Gallery runs from Oct. 18 to Dec. 16.