*Featured photo: “Darth Vase #1”– Deborah Slahta (ceramic and raku fired vase)
Each year, the Banana Factory features an exhibit to celebrate the ongoing work of their resident artists. In the 2020 digital exhibition, installations include mystic glass panels of starry orbs, flowing acrylic petunia petals that blend with their background, and lonely rocking chairs, sitting in the shadows. The collection demonstrates stunning range and the commitment of the Banana Factory to support the visual arts in all of its forms. By taking a long interpretive look at a handful of these featured artworks, I hope to celebrate the depth and interpretive possibility of the works of local artists, and encourage you to take your own walk through the digital exhibit featured on Banana Factory’s website. The digital exhibition is accessible from July 3rd through at least the end of the year!
For me, Katie Hovencamp’s pen and ink drawing, “When Things Suck At Home,” holds special resonance as we renegotiate our home spaces during the pandemic. The woman’s source of oxygen is directly infiltrated by the dirty particulates in the vacuum, suggesting a dark take on the disproportionate requirements of household labor for women. The retro mask and attire reveals that this connection between women and household labor is something from the past. The flippant title of the piece suggests the artist’s dissatisfaction with rigid gender norms for domestic labor. Likewise, the mask entrenches the viewer in associations of gas masks and World War II bombings. As I think about this as commentary on cultural attitudes about gender and work, I also am reminded of how quarantine has severely restricted the escapes and outlets for individuals who face abuse at home, or who do not find home to be secure or comfortable. For some women, new amounts of time being spent at home may increase pressure and anxiety as they navigate caring for family while working digitally. This drawing reminds me that this kind of disproportionate division of labor is not just annoying, but infiltrates the air women breathe, and the freedom they have to do other things beyond caring for family and taking care of domestic spaces.
Lauren Kuhn’s acrylic on canvas painting, “Looking Glass Blues,” reminds me of the pleasant potential of opening up cupboards and finding bulk food and spices. The jars in this painting, made vivid with colorful swirls, remind me of the winds and mountains of Colorado, where my dearest friends make their own jam and store it in old mason jars. The green and blue tints of these jars seem to literally code them as sustainable, and I cannot help but link them with the culture of hipsterism, both in a nostalgic and critical way. The idea of reusing glass packaging is connected to sustainability as it is a safe way to ensure that waste is reduced. Yet there are subsets of American culture which are only committed to the image of sustainability. Newly made sets of mason jars, sold at IKEA or Target, cash in on a desire to look as though we reuse materials, yet sidesteps the act of thoughtful resource conservation. The glass jars in this painting are beautiful in their colorful reflections and light refraction, but they also evoke an image of the world that many wish for, and try to buy.
This photo captures some of the jagged vermillion rocks in Red Rocks, Nevada, home to rock climbing, Joshua trees, and a precarious desert ecology. Often when I see photography like this, I am swept away by an urge to adventure, to escape as far as possible from our human realm. But with another look, the photo also reflects the inability for anyone to escape human regulation of natural spaces. In this photo, these lonely rock formations are not actually so lonesome after all, as the road in the foreground shows. This is not a pristine desert as it is marked by human movement. Deserts have never been the optimal space for colonization according to European standards, but even this desolate place, once home to Virgin Anasazi Indians, Desert Archaic peoples, and Paleoarchaic peoples—who left their mark, too, on these spaces—was taken for American glory. The Southern Piaute, the most recent American Indian tribe to historically live in Red Rocks, continue to protect their history and land there today, continue to have to fight companies, governments, and tourists, and continue to preserve their sacred spaces. This photo then, recalls a tension between a yearning to explore the beauty of the world, and the violence toward indigenous peoples all over the world, which has not yet been redressed.
Kim Hogan’s glass mosaic, “The Houseplant,” captures the whimsy and beauty of plants on a mission for sunlight. Since the beginning of quarantine, I have developed a new awareness of plants, having now grown them from seed for the first time. I had never realized that the plants that had always populated the spaces around me were so delightful to watch grow, as they yearned for space and nutrients. Too frequently plants have been regulated to the inanimate in my mind. The butternut squash, cantelope, and okra we planted this summer burst into sprawling life within weeks, reminiscent of the large fronds captured here. This mosaic captures the exciting growth of plants. Captured in glass, the houseplant of this mosaic still conveys the chaotic yearning for life that motivates plant movement as they reach toward the sun.
The recent exhibition of local artists at the Banana Factory offers insights into settler colonialism, the agency of plants, the greenwashing of consumerism, and gendered household labor, among many other insights and topics. This art collection may also evoke entirely different associations in each viewer, and that is art’s beauty. The only way you can discover your own interpretations of these artworks is by spending some meditative time with Banana Factory’s Annual Resident Artist’s Exhibit yourself!