MFA showcase explores how trauma is ‘lost in translation’ | Arts + Culture
The seven pieces in the local exhibit “Lost in Translation,” the University Center Gallery’s newest exhibit, are reminiscent of roadside bar signs, in that nearly every work is spelled in different shades of neon. Thistles, masks and other objects cast in clay surround neon lights spelling out different words in different languages and colors.
UC Gallery Director Amanda Barr said the contrast in her master’s thesis exhibit is intentional, to signify the barriers trauma can create in communication, especially for people with disabilities. Playing with language, color and historical references, the installation features seven pieces that address issues of physical, emotional and mental trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It just became something I thought about and talked about so much more and the difficulties of communicating when you have a trauma, when you have a disability,” Barr said. “I work on things that are really vital to me in a way that communicates these struggles, these frustrations and this empathy. “
Barr, who has had a disability his entire life, said his master’s thesis in fine arts was a product of his experiences during the pandemic. Diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that compromises the immune system, Barr said she was in constant limbo until she got her COVID-19 vaccine. For this reason, Barr’s master’s thesis in fine arts has gone from an interactive showcase to an exhibition on communication barriers.
The result was something rarely seen in contemporary ceramics: neon.
“There is a rich history of artists using neon,” said Trey Hill, professional sculptor and Barr’s advisor at UM. “That said, in the field of contemporary ceramics, not many people use neon. I think it’s a great material to use with clay, because it’s so different, but it’s also a great combination.
To make each part, Barr learned to bend the glass tube, suck in air, and then pump it with argon or neon. Although neon is traditionally seen in outdoor settings, Barr’s art has attracted more than his advisor’s attention.
“Neon itself is not something traditional in art and it’s much more modern,” said Whitney Gardipee, an art student at UM. “I like it.”
But Barr said she didn’t include neon just for aesthetics. The themes of isolation, loneliness and death are expressed through the colors, words and objects that make up its showcase. Each case of red, green, purple, or blue means something different, but all relate to the recurring theme of Barr’s trauma.
The coin “Tlamanistli”, which means “sacrifice” in Nahuatl, is bright red, to represent death. Pinched porcelain flowers and clay-cast masks hang on threads in front of a red neon sign, just above a pile of clay-cast animal skulls. To the right is a small caption, with a tweet from August by
@shitfarrt read, “I’m willing to sacrifice the old fat and the disabled for a return to normal.”
“Consent,” which features a blue neon sign hanging in front of a mirror, follows a similar theme of reflection – this time about oneself rather than others. Barr said she chose the word “consent” because it’s plain English, and a word “no one seems to understand”.
But not all works of art are described so clearly.
At the front of the gallery is a five-handed oven-cast glass screen spelling out the word ONLY in American Sign Language. The hands are lit by LEDs rather than neon lights, which Barr says is intentional.
“The deaf community has its own culture, its own social beliefs and practices, its history, its values and its common institutions, outside of the hearing world for a reason,” she said. “I wanted this piece to really show the isolation that disability can create.”
Despite the heavy subject matter of her work, Barr said she enjoys creating her exhibit. This is precisely because she had to work with neon and create her frustrations that often get lost in translation.
“Lost in Translation” is on display in the UC gallery from Monday to Friday from 11 am to 6 pm until September 24th.