At a Take 5 panel for current MOA exhibition “No Place Like Home: Selections from the Sue and John Wieland Collection of Contemporary Art,” professors Jamin Rowan and Charlotte Stanford discussed the concept of urban spaces and how the exhibition intersects with their own research in the humanities.
PROVO, Utah (Oct. 29, 2015)—Imagine the peaceful, domestic space of lush backyards, brightly painted homes, gardens, mossy trees and lawn chairs. Now add the hazy backdrop of several towering smokestacks, and you have a Mitch Epstein photograph entitled Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia.
At the Take 5 panel, Jamin Rowan, assistant professor of English, and Charlotte Stanford, associate teaching professor of comparative arts and letters shared their own interpretations of Epstein’s photograph and other artwork that is currently displayed as part of a MOA exhibition entitled No Place Like Home: Selections from the Sue and John Wieland Collection of Contemporary Art, an exhibit that examines urban and domestic space and what constitutes the concept of home.
“One of the things that I love about literature and the arts is the way that they expose the hidden social, economic and environmental costs that we continue to pay in order to build and maintain our homes and the spaces in which we carry out our work and recreation,” said Rowan.
Rowan discussed the concept of space within the exhibit itself, noting how each of the pieces displayed are in conversation with one another from various sides of the room.
Juxtaposing the conversation between Epstein’s photograph and Kota Ezawa’s Flood, a light box piece that is also featured in the exhibit. Rowan examined the ways both pieces demonstrate the disproportionate price that only certain members of society pay for an energy production that benefits all.
“Those that benefit most are usually those that pay the smallest price,” said Rowan. “Ezawa’s Flood, which hangs across the room from Epstein’s photograph, is another environmental reminder of the environmental injustices produced by a current system of energy production and consumption.”
Rowan added that although many factors led to the Georgia flood in 2009 (the flood that Ezawa’s piece depicts), it is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore the carbon-emission-induced planet change that has been brought about by inexpensive, coal-powered energy.
“This work reminds us that some bear more of the brunt than others of the consequences of our society’s habits of energy consumption,” Rowan concluded. “The irony of Ezawa’s light box is that the source of energy that makes this image visible to viewers is the very source that produces the very social catastrophes that Ezawa captures.”
Stanford also examined Epstein’s photograph, pairing it not with artwork from the exhibit but with Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s Winter Landscape with Church. Contrasting these two works of art, Stanford discussed the psychological space of destruction and what images of destruction reveal about our feelings on the environment.
Stanford noted how Friedrich’s painting is one of purely Romantic landscape, while Epstein’s photograph is a modern commentary on how industry destroys the sense of home and security.
Stanford explained that a popular commentary on Friedrich’s painting is that it is a “reflection on the primary efficacy of nature as a vehicle for God.”
She added, “I see that as an echo that can help us appreciate and understand the Epstein work, in which nature is meant to be something beautiful, preserved and something that is, in a sense, holy to us.”
“This looming threat in the background, then, becomes all the more sinister when contrasted with these homes,” Stanford concluded.
—Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English/French ’17)
Sylvia covers the department of Comparative Arts & Letters for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a double major in English and French with a minor in women’s studies.