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Arctic Artist Plunges Visitors into Darkness

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As the issue of climate change has been heating up, more artists have been incorporating nature and science into their artworks, both as an act of artistic movement and as a push to create awareness and alarm over pressing environmental issues. In her exhibition “Markers of Time” at the Weitz Center Christina Seely ‘98 depicts the change by focusing on the relationship between natural and man-made time and the concept of changing time.

The exhibition is organized in three different concepts of time, metra (measure), jugis (constant), and muto (change). The photographs in the jugis section that show the constantness of the sun setting in the equator region emphasize the change of the landscapes in the Arctic. The photograph in which Seely attempts to place the arctic fox back in its natural snowy habitat shows the distinct contrast between the natural order and its current disrupted state.

Even though Seely and Tape, the curator of a neighboring exhibition “Then and Now,” share the theme of climate change and the Arctic, they take on markedly different approaches when addressing the topic. The most noticeable difference is the usage of light. While Tape’s exhibition is brightly lit, Seely’s space is dark and has an ambience of bareness. The effect of darkness is especially apparent because her works are more widespread yet fewer in number than Tape’s.

According to Laurel Bradley, the director of the Perlman Teaching Museum, the darkness of the exhibit is intended since Seely wanted to create more of an immersive experience and show the sense of quietness and darkness of the Arctic to the viewers.

Seely’s exhibition also stands out in her usage of different methods in presentation. Aside from her works of conventional photography, she also combines a number of moving stills into a video projection. By removing accompanying descriptions from her work, she helps the viewers immerse themselves into the Arctic environment through the projections and forces them to come up with their own interpretations.

The experience of immersion in the Arctic becomes complete when the viewer enters an unknown room at the corner of the exhibit surrounded by dark curtains. Lying on the ground with pillows, the viewer enters a space of total darkness and a state of vulnerability.

Unfortunately, since the total darkness experience is entirely voluntary, the audience can choose to pass it by. Some may not even realize it is part of the exhibit since there are no instructions or manuals written accompanying it. Bradley admitted, “It takes a certain commitment to go in a room that is pretty dark without any information.”

Seely, however, believes the variation of methods will allow the viewers to engage more in the exhibit. “The installation allows [the viewers] more time in there and lets you meditate more and let go and see what it happens,” she explained. “With still images, you have to decide to engage in a different way so hopefully the installations get you to sort of open up to the still photographs.”

Hannah Jones, a senior studio art major and a museum attendant at Perlman, commented on her appreciation of a different approach, pointing out the projection of a walrus in the Arctic. She said, “I like how there are parts of the image that are not concrete, and in doing so, it shows the concept of a temporal subject even more.”

For there are no guides to Seely’s exhibition, its meaning truly depends on the participation and engagement of the audience. It is not an exhibit that we as viewers could simply pass by nor one where we can expect it to do the work for us. It sometimes leads to frustration while viewing inexplicable images, but as Bradley said, pointing out the projection in the corner, “If you do go so far as to lie down, then you do start to have a different perspective.”

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