“Two Layers Away” gallery exhibit features senior art

On Friday April 14, as part of the Festival of Scholars and Artists, the on-campus Hoffman Gallery debuted “Two Layers Away,” an exhibition of seniors’ art. Lewis & Clark’s graduating visual artists have joined forces to present this final project, making creative use of various styles and mediums to fill the space.

“Two Layers Away” was named for the way the different artworks explore the subversive messages and overlapping meanings and associations that lie below the surface of a work, whether visible or implicit. The exhibit will be open to the community through May 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Mondays.  

At the entrance, visitors can pick up a large pamphlet printed on thick black paper containing a statement from each of the eight artists represented. In their statements, artists wrote about their inspiration or purpose, the emotions and associations the art is meant to evoke and personal connections or significance.

Upon entering the gallery, Umi Caldwell ’23’s wall-sized mural “Dilutions” looms before the visitor with its dynamic, ambiguously female figure struggling in the grip of a traditional Korean dragon. The subject’s expression of anguish and rage as she grasps writhing strands of black hair lends a remarkable sense of power and energy to the piece. 

The scale of “Dilutions” works to create a sense of epic mythos, a struggle which thrusts itself upon the viewer, making its proportions and ferocity impossible to ignore. The decision, too, to render the piece on apparent slabs of unpolished, unbleached wood lends a grittiness and vivacity to the piece which at once ignites a desire to lean into the unsettled, churning danger and an intense rawness which makes the viewer almost turn away from the sight. This is not a piece to take your eyes off.

In the pamphlet of exhibition information, Caldwell reveals that “Dilutions” grapples with their Korean American heritage and sense of alienation yet fascination with traditional Korean culture and mythos. The mural depicts the figure of Cheuksin, a household toilet deity, used to symbolize the distinction of filth, relegated to the outhouse, as well as the cleanliness of civilization and family. With their piece, Caldwell seeks to turn this characterization on its head and provide Cheuksin with a fresh voice and narrative autonomy.

“I have reinterpreted her as a resilient female figure unafraid to express frustration and rage at having been exiled to the outhouse,” Caldwell wrote in their artist’s statement. “She functions as a representation of Asian women expected to repress their ‘monstrous’ appearances, tempers, and cultural practices in order to assimilate into a Eurocentric American sphere.”

To the right of “Dilutions,” Colin Sakamoto ’23’s “Certain Places,” a series of seemingly incongruous photographs, spreads out with various heights and spacing along two walls. The subject of each photo is a mundane snapshot of daily life — the kind of scenes that the eye would normally slide past out of disinterested familiarity, but which when placed within the framing of an exhibition which prompts deliberate scrutiny, reveal organic forms and compositions engaging in their very uncalibrated unintentionality. 

These objects and settings inspire an alluring unease of place and character — a drooping candle forgotten on a cluttered side table, a tree cramped by a fence and its strangely sensual, intimate shadow, an anonymous corner of a dirt yard whose featurelessness and lack of subject taunt the viewer into submersion in the desolate yet comforting landscape of suburbia.

“The pictures are an act of composing the elements of everyday scenes into something worth revisiting, using the camera to pull interest from seemingly hollow subjects,” Sakamoto wrote in the artist statement. “While engaging with the world, I feel simultaneously dissociated from it. The subjects are in-between spaces like parking lots, empty storefronts, pictures of pictures, and street corners. They refuse location or direction. … Despite the subjects’ stillness, there is an air of precariousness, as if they could all fall apart.”

“Dilutions” and “Certain Places” are only two out of eight artists’ work on show in the Hoffman Gallery right now. The exhibit is a visually enjoyable, thought provoking and creatively stimulating way to see what visual arts students here on campus are producing. Wander deeper into the gallery and let each piece prompt questions as you sink below the surface of its whimsical, multidimensional world. 

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