If you haven’t heard, the art barn is being leveled this Fall, and bringing with it tears and anxieties about the coming years of art at Covenant. For many, the barn’s demolition was devastating news, especially for many of the seniors who looked forward to creating their SIPs in the space that has had an impact on generations of Covenant College art majors. The art department held a wake to mourn the loss of the beloved barn, which with all its kinks and cracks managed to inspire attendance from faculty, students, and staff from almost all of the departments in the college.
The concept of place in art is often thought of as an abstract idea, and for many it is dealt with in the abstract so that our tie to place as artists and individuals is never fully realized. The current Kresge Art Gallery exhibit, titled site/change/process centers around an imaginary proposal for a new arts building on Covenant’s campus. Designed and imagined by two alumni, Nathan Foxton (‘11) and Elizabeth Tubergen (‘08), the exhibit deals in the wildest potential for art at Covenant. The space features a wide range of types of proposals from a lower campus to an imaginary road connecting scenic to the rest of the lower campus conceived of by Ian Morton, son of Professor Morton. While the show is an attempt to imagine an intentional space for art making in the lower part of campus, it also speaks to a much deeper and richer need for Covenant students. The idea, not of place-filling, but place-making becomes the centerpiece as a dialogue flows between artists and viewers in the gallery.
Foxton has featured several paintings which begin to explore what a “slow space” between founders and the proposed site for the new art building could be. The paintings are in Foxton’s style which can be seen around Covenant’s campus and feature saturated color and abstracted, blurry views. The most surprising element is the sort of hazy brilliance in which the figures seem to be interacting. Foxton’s exhibit also features an idea-board, where he explores intentions for the space and potential outworkings of these key words. Morty compared this work to a utopian ideal for the space, something unachievable but part of a perceived perfection. The paintings, read in this way, reflect an idyllic tract of land marked by art promoting a kind of preparedness. Foxton describes his imagined space as a “painting populated by people.” To me, the space ideally appeared to function the same way a museum atrium or a call to worship works. As viewers walk into traditional museums they are greeted by large pillars, an atrium, and architectural elements which are meant to encourage a lofty mindset, a visual statement which commands viewers to behold. In Foxton’s exhibit, viewers are made to have this same experience of entering, but entering in community.
As Elizabeth Tubergen lectured on her process of approach for the space, she began by exploring some of the eccentricities of the space. Her work is primarily in large scale structure or what we all know as public art. Her pieces have included large scale staircases, archways, and other larger-than-life works. However, these works often fall just short of making the viewer feel small. While they are over-sized, they are not enough to sustain more than one viewer interacting individually. The works tend to bring up opportunities for all sorts of awkward moments as viewers attempt to navigate each piece. Tubergen pointed out that the stretch of Covenant’s campus is built into a cliff, giving it the feeling of suspension while being fortified by the deep mountain stone we see built into every structure on Lookout. These ideas, when formulated into her perspective of Covenant, forced her to center around the people who interact here on a daily basis--the sort of livability this place has despite the tensions on which it hinges.
Site/change/process brings these tensions to a head as artists work out their own visions in a kind of protected idealism, and invites viewers to participate in this. The works are sketchy and unfinished, as is the conversation they reflect. As Senior, Hannah Taylor, pointed out, these works are loftier than many of us feel in lieu of the barn’s demise. Where we feel anxious and uncertain the works are hopeful and risky. The show will be on display through October 6, right around the time the barn is coming down, so be sure to make time for it in your September calendar!