Witness or Participant?
Fall 2011: Volume 2, Issue 3
During my recent visit to the Illiterate Gallery along the South Broadway corridor of Denver, artist Ethan Garton offered this insight into his work: “If you like to spit, then you’ll probably like my art.” If you’re imagining a tomato-throwing hiss fest, think again. The specific piece in question, “Flee the Urban Deathtrap Before It’s Too Late,” was a work in progress, to be completed once all the visitors to the closing reception spit at least one mouthful of wine onto the drawing, a large sketch depicting each physical layer of the Hawaiian rainforest ecosystem as well as indigenous origin myths and the Catholic divisions for the Afterlife. “Flee the Urban Deathtrap” could easily captivate a viewer with its intricate blend of earthly limits and sublime limitlessness, but it’s Garton’s interest in shifting the viewer from witness to actor that suggests an aesthetics that involves relationship rather than art in isolation.
Passive witness or active participant? Each contributor in this issue of Newfound explores the value and complications of re-seeing the world around them. Tyra Olstad’s experimental essay on the prairie aesthetic serves as a wonderful foundation for the observer/actor binary in the environmental aesthetics debate. Daniel Browne’s fiction features a savvy East Coast narrator who travels west to escape the claustrophobia of Manhattan only to encounter a different kind of claustrophobia on a remote island off the coast of Washington. In Cameron Turner’s interview with David Colagiovanni, the artist discusses his new media collaborations and the connections between sensory experience and worldview. Shiloh Booker’s review examines a poet who’s also interested in representing the abstract in art, namely how understanding the limitations of Western epistemology can shift people from witness to actor, while Ezra Feldman explores ideas similar to Colagiovanni’s through poetry imbued with nature imagery, all the while calling attention to anxieties surrounding readership and interpretation.
Aislinn Leggett’s digitally manipulated photographs serve as ghostly palimpsests that reveal the potent relationship between place and family history, while Yigal Ozeri blends high fashion and documentary style photography to create lush, photorealistic paintings of mythic women in arcadian landscapes, risking the fetishization of the female form as well as the natural world. Josh Collins takes a closer look at a short story/novella collection that reconciles the human/nonhuman nature division, while Martha Stallman uncovers the civilization/wilderness line in a movie featuring knife-wielding apes. Fiction writers J. A. Tyler, Gregory Sherl, and Lora Hilty as well as poets Alex Lemon and Suzanne Marie Hopcroft invoke the sublime while confronting loss and change. Dana Killmeyer’s personal essay confronts a different issue: Is it possible for a farmer to live in balance with the natural world?
Contributor Tyra Olstad suggests that “by spending time in a place, extending our sensual response through intellectual engagement, we enhance our capacity to understand and appreciate classic forms as well as fresh, new ways of looking at the world.” May the work in this issue inspire you to get outside and re-see the world around you. (Watch out for those apes with knives, though.)
Gwynne Middleton, Managing Editor