Sustainability has become a buzzword. Propagated by publicists and businesses trying to capitalize off our collective guilt, words like “sustainable” and “green” have been attached to products and ideas by companies without further explanation or proof. Does being a sustainable makeup brand just mean using only natural ingredients? Does it include a commitment to fair wages? What of the idea that far more sustainable is not caking your face in any outside substance? Consumers are starting to become critical, and with good reason.
It’s time we got back to basics. What does it mean to be sustainable?
Wait. Go further. Break the word and idea down to its root.
What does it mean to sustain?
This is the idea behind Huff Gallery’s latest offering, “Sustain,” a six-artist invitational exhibit described in its curatorial statement as an examination of “present and future ideas on the health and welfare of people and animals, our living and working environment, and practices that enrich society and culture.”
If that seems broad, it’s meant to, says gallery director Joyce Ogden. The exhibit was inspired by the most recent annual department theme chosen by Spalding University’s School of Liberal Studies — the natural environment. Ogden wanted to take a more expansive and interpretive, but still complementary, look that explored different levels and got people thinking about and discussing the idea of nature and sustainability beyond the current cultural connotations.
Rudolfo Salgado Jr.’s installation explores the pressurized, mechanical systems within the human body through suspended found and categorized objects repurposed to look like organs. The process of giving new life to old objects is a sustainable message all on its own, but the makeshift stomach and intestines also reference individual health and aging, two factors inherently tied to the idea of the natural world.
Ryan Patterson takes a community approach to the theme with his functional piece, “Family Dinner Table.” A picnic table/wheelbarrow hybrid, the “Family Dinner Table” speaks to the power of breaking bread wherever you go. It was inspired by the warm reception the Louisville community gave the Baltimore-based artist during his year as the artist-in-residence at the Kentucky School of Art last year. Patterson plans to utilize the piece at dinners and events after the exhibit ends later this month.
More interpretive is Mary Carothers’ take on community. Her sculpture, which was selected as the signature artwork for a new hospital in Owensboro, utilized members of the community to create “floating seeds” that represent both the personal wishes of an individual and the collective hopes of a community. The flow and delicacy stands in stark contrast to Salgado’s harsher, grimier organ sculptures.
Rounding out the exhibit are Susanna Crum, Annie Langan and Craig Bunting, whose works all explore people’s interaction with the landscape and the earth around them, though through vastly different lenses and approaches.
“The more I thought about sustainability and the environment, I realized it’s about so much more,” explains Ogden. “So, I looked more broadly. Don’t go to the obvious.”