Disappearing landscape 

Harrison Gallery
Through Nov. 26

Vera’s house is an ordinary house. It’s on the small side, white aluminum siding, concrete front steps, mature trees on the lot. What makes Vera’s house different from yours or mine? Behind Vera’s house, brooding and stained dark with smoke, stands a power plant tower, tapered at the waist in an oddly elegant flourish, as most such contaminant-spewing beasts are. A necessary evil? Perhaps. But for Erin Harper Vernon, such looming monstrosities, as subtly nestled in the landscape as some are, offer insidious and hopeless reminders of what ails us.

Vernon’s photographs of this — “Vera’s House,” by the NIPSCO plant in Michigan City, Ind. — and others like it hang as part of the Harrison Gallery’s nod to this year’s Spirit & Place Festival in an exhibition titled devaSTATE. Dubbed a “proactive exhibition” and an “aesthetic response to the current state of Indiana’s environment,” photographs like Vernon’s, alongside other similarly arresting works in painting, photography, sculpture and installation, offer a preaching-to-the-choir sort of view that nonetheless is moving, and not in a sentimental sort of way.

I care about the environment as much as the next person — no doubt you do, too — but how do we effectively take our concern to the next level? Such an exhibition offers an aesthetic perspective, certainly, and helps to build awareness of such realities as air and groundwater contaminates that may be in our own backyards — literally. Fly ash and coal slag contaminates are no joke, and Indiana is not immune, even if we’re not thought of as being among the more serious offenders.

Less obvious are works by Herron professors Linda Adele Goodine and Mark Richardson, offering before-seen works in their respective mediums: photography and ceramics. Goodine’s much-larger-than-life, close-up portraits of children holding rabbits in front of a burlap American flag — each of six portraits standing alone and coming together as one image — offer a view of innocence spoiled by the quantification and rational response to the animal kingdom engendered by such traditions as the State Fair. Richardson’s ceramic chargers also challenge agrarian traditions, with loose narratives of the “family farm” composed from retro decals of flying fowl, cows, tractors and the like.

Offering a bit of lightheartedness — but not too much — Jamie Pawlus’ realistic sign, “Nature,” points the way, and this may indeed be just where we’re headed. “Nature” is just a sanctuary, roped off and consumed as an attraction. No doubt this is the cynical view. But such cynicism is necessary if a change in direction is desired. No doubt it is — by most of us.

Sadly, the gallery was not filled with art. But what’s here may indeed provoke discussion, as the curator, sponsoring organization Hoosier Environmental Council, and Spirit & Place folks intend.

devaSTATE in the Harrison Gallery, Harrison Center for the Arts, 1505 N. Delaware St., 317-396-3886, is up through Nov. 26, and also includes works by Mike Marker (ethereal photos and maps glossed with beeswax), Tim Fuller (more digital prints of blights to the Indiana landscape), N. Rich Mansfield (sculpture), Lamar Richcreek (installation) and Jessica Klumpp Held (sculpture). Visit www.harrisoncenter.org.

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