Works of art have the ability to make our world a little bit larger through the artist’s exploration of ideas and concepts, but artists also bring their own perspective and experiences to the works they create. “Nowhere,” an exhibition on view at the New Center for Contemporary Art through April 22, features the work of five Louisville artists — Thomas deLisle, Maiza Hixon, Sarah Lyon, Cynthia Norton and Valerie Sullivan Fuchs — who explore the issue of place through our city and the time in which we live.
The show is about how we (yes, this includes you) see ourselves, how others see us and how we think others see us. Co-curator Julien Robson said he believes artists who work outside the urban art hubs of New York, L.A. and other big cities have the opportunity to create a regionally significant conversation, talking about ideas that are important to the local community, situated here where the artist lives.
Valerie Sullivan Fuchs’ touching and powerful video installation is a real kaleidoscope, with images of old women who might be the viewers’ parents, grandparents or favorite aunts and uncles, and young children who might be the viewer at a young age or the viewers’ children moving in and out of the frames. The figures dance and swirl with color, creating a visual and sensory memory yet recalling memories of times gone by, family gatherings, reunions and other photo opportunities. Fuchs’ work often has this effect, and it shows the reverence she holds for her place and her family. And though it is hard to watch up close, because of the sense of vertigo it creates, once I stood back from the piece and watched the colors and faces unfold, I was struck by the beauty and familiarity of the people in the piece.
Sarah Lyon’s large-format color photographs show the viewer places in Louisville that aren’t, at first glance, beautiful or memorable. They consist of broken down tires, dirty trailers and abandoned buildings that are keenly focused and specific. Robson says Lyon’s images “are charged not only with the recording of what is now but also with a presence of the invisible past and future — ‘what was’ and ‘what could be’ — reinvesting this nowhere with an individuality that makes it somewhere.”
DeLisle’s thought-provoking “Plein Air” depicts a single tree set to the music of birdsong and a 1929 recording of blues singer Charlie Patton’s “I Shall Not Be Moved,” a song often associated with the Civil Rights movement. deLisle draws the viewer in with this beautiful tree waving in the breeze, then allows the viewer to personally interpret the piece through the accompanying music.
Maiza Hixson approaches her sense of place from a tongue-in-cheek perspective, taking Louisville Metro’s promotional taglines and adapting them to portraits of herself as a buxom blonde. The portraits show how advertising can manipulate images to create a false sense of place.
Cynthia Norton addresses clichés applied to Southern culture through her artistic alter-ego: Ninnie, a “country” singer who creates musical instruments from suitcases and tennis rackets.
In 2005, “Nowhere” premiered at Galerie Eugen Lendl as part of the Styrian Autumn Festival in Graz, Austria, with all of the Louisville artists present for the opening. deLisle said video art seems more widely known in Europe than in Kentucky, and he perceived an honest interest in seeing his portrayal of this place through the medium. Fuchs said she received positive feedback about her piece.
Robson said the Graz showing helped alleviate some of the still-existing stereotypes about this region of the country. “The tendency to regard places like Kentucky as a contemporary art backwater has receded in recent years,” he said, “although there is still a discernable feeling that outside impressions of here harbor a certain prejudice.”
BY PENNY PEAVLER