LAWRENCE — The exhibition “Reading the World,” which showcases how artists from Kansas and beyond explore forces of nature, opens Aug. 26 at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. Together the works displayed prompt viewers to consider their own encounters with the natural world as well as their ecological and political contexts.
Four of the featured artists are based in Kansas. Lisa Grossman’s “Floodplain Scrolls” use LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) map images to document the migration of the Kansas River over time. An installation of hand-dyed silk pieces by Marie Bannerot McInerney, associate professor of fiber at the Kansas City Art Institute, moves in response to airflow and visitors passing through the gallery. Lilly McElroy, assistant teaching professor in the KU School of Architecture & Design, presents a series of playful photographs that capture her ongoing struggle to control the sun. Erin Wiersma, associate professor of drawing and painting at Kansas State University, created two large-scale works by rubbing, dragging and pushing large pieces of paper on the Konza Prairie after a prescribed burn, resulting in unique portraits of the landscape.
The exhibition also includes a video work by Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota) that documents his “Mirror Shield Project” at Oceti Sakowin Camp in 2016. In the video Indigenous peoples and allies protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline hold mirror shields above their heads and move in a river- or serpent-like formation.
Joey Orr, Spencer Museum curator for research, said that all of the artworks featured in “Reading the World” come from larger bodies of work that demonstrate the artists’ ongoing inquiries into how we understand the natural world around us.
“This exhibition does a great job of bringing together how ecological themes are navigated by regional artists in conversation with works from other national contexts, as with the work of Cannupa Hanska Luger,” Orr said.
The exhibition is inspired by a partnership between the Spencer Museum’s Arts Research Integration program and Huixuan Wu, former associate professor of aerospace engineering in KU’s School of Engineering. Like the work of the artists in the exhibition, Wu’s research addresses natural phenomena that can be difficult to interpret. Through his work in experimental fluid dynamics, Wu uses imaging technology to identify natural forces that can’t be seen by the naked eye. “Reading the World” is funded by his CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.
“The universe, our human life, everything is neither determinant nor random. There is a balance. If I have a pattern, I can try and analyze the pattern, and that tells us something about this complexity. We can see these things playing out in the sciences and the works of art in the exhibition,” Wu said.
“Reading the World” will remain on view at the Spencer Museum in the Marshall Family Balcony through Jan. 7, 2024. Admission to the Spencer Museum is free for everyone.
Image: Lilly McElroy, "I Control the Sun # 11," 2015, courtesy of the artist and Rick Wester Fine Art.