Emery Community Arts Center’s premiere online exhibition, DETOUR, engages our present moment of pervasive disruption caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. The artworks included in this exhibition capture this moment from the viewpoints of 35 artists and collectives, representing local (to Farmington, Maine), national and international perspectives on the disruption, fear, and devastation, but also humor, gratitude, and transformation, that define the COVID-19 era.
This large group exhibition is presented through three virtual galleries, each building a thematic dialogue among a diverse compilation of artworks. Gallery 1: Disruption directs a visceral focus on the vulnerability of the human body. These works also explore the swift cultural shifts that employ face masks and toilet paper as the icons of the pandemic. Among the collection of artworks in this gallery, the artist collective Scenocosme’s Contamination Series presents photographs of the body covered in thorn-like spines. These images consider how physical and social distance profoundly affects us by transforming our relationship with others and the world, leaving us marked by fear and suffering, and searching for protection. Jill Miller’s oil painting, The Doctor, serves as an earnest tribute to the brave medical workers tirelessly risking their health and safety for the benefit of others. Naomi S. Velasquez’s artist’s book, Flavivirus, Flaviviridae, explores the book as a vessel for scientific research, inserting found and repaired quilt blocks as a reference to mending and hope. Alveola, Saint of Easy Breathing, a collage by Jessica Rhoades, is reverent, yet humorous, as the artist borrows from the imagery of Christian icons and medieval medical illustration to build the image of a saintly figure with a modern-day inhaler in hand. Rhoades’ contemporary saint represents healing and devotion to the service and aid of others. Punctuating Gallery 1, and carrying forth this reverent, yet playful tone, is Mia Cinelli’s banner, Strange Times. Cinelli references ceremonial gonfalons with her series of hand-sewn banners and carries them performatively through public space in a socially-distant one-person Pandemic Parade—an homage to persistence, solidarity, and levity during this crisis.
Gallery 2: Space explores the contraction and expansion of physical and emotional spaces during experiences of quarantine and sheltering in place. Here, representations of architectural space merge with intangible space, both psychological and imaginary. Andrew Leventis’ oil painting, Orderly Refrigerator (Modern Vanitas), presents the interior of a stocked refrigerator, reflecting the widespread frenzied impulse to fill shopping carts and stockpile provisions, leaving many grocery store shelves bare. Leventis’ reference to vanitas connects this work to the 17th-century Dutch genre containing symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability. Several other works in this gallery, such as Overtime, a video by the collective Coalfather, and Quarantine Queen, by Sarah Harrill, also focus on interior spaces, building a sense of claustrophobic confinement through playfully absurd imagery. Melissa Huang’s video, One Month In, mergers the physical experience of confinement and isolation with psychological experiences of stress and anxiety. Jennifer Printz’s drawings create a palpable tension between interior and exterior space, while Becky Jane Rosen’s painting, #youknowyouvedoneit, and Qiuwen Li’s digital print, Beyond Screens, acknowledge the refuge of losing ourselves in the virtual worlds of our smartphones and screens.
The collection of works in Gallery 3: Transformation signal the emergence of imminent change in the wake of the pandemic. Ellen Hanauer’s fiber sculpture, New Paradigm, tackles transformation symbolically, as a snake with scales of doilies sheds its old skin and leaves it behind. Similarly, Ron Gelinas’ granite sculpture creates a visual paradox of weight and weightlessness, as the stone takes on an effervescent shape and appears to float in space. The New Potential, by Rebecca Vickers, presents a large billboard, typically a beacon of commercial advertising and consumer culture, quieted by a monochromatic field of blue paper, fading back into the sky. Anne H. Strout’s encaustic painting, Together We Hold Up the Sky, and Jessica Barness’ video, Ground, both acknowledge the monumental socio-political moment running parallel to the pandemic, as power structures are challenged, and communities join together to demand social justice.