Project Reclamation
Review by Katie Levy

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Katie Levy. All rights reserved.

Project Reclamation is about reclaiming our land, our lives and our voice,” states co-curator Mary Margaret Sparks. The art exhibition currently on display at New Albany’s Carnegie Center explores the dichotomy between the system of using coal to power our region while defacing it at the same time. With a subject as polarizing and a practice as devastating as mountaintop removal, the exhibit still manages to exude an air of hopefulness.

Sparks specifically chose artists for this show based on their passion for the issue of mountaintop removal. Working with Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, all participating artists were invited to visit Eastern Kentucky to observe the region under duress firsthand. Visiting Appalshop and speaking with community members, artists gained perspective on the issue from the people who are rooted in the region and experience mountaintop removal as a facet of daily life. Each artist was then asked to create a piece of art reflecting his or her own interpretation of the subject.

Sparks’ goal for Project Reclamation is for it to “serve as an education tool and open people’s minds to just how complex and far reaching mountaintop removal is.” She accomplished her goal by paying great attention to detail. Not only is there a section of the exhibition program devoted to answering the question “What is Mountaintop Removal,” but she also made sure to include a healthy dose of programming to accompany the exhibition. There are multiple opportunities to take part in gallery talks, documentary screenings, workshops and panel discussions. Click on this link for the full schedule..

As far as the artwork, diversity seems to be the thread that ties the exhibition together. Most of the artists have a personal tie to the cause demonstrated not only through their work, but through their artist statements, with many choosing to donate their portion of earnings to Kentuckians For the Commonwealth. The range of artists, styles, mediums and perspectives makes for a comprehensive look at mountaintop removal with themes of the political, environmental and personal.

Harriman, by Denise Burge.

Each and every piece included in the exhibit is unique and impactful. Some might remember Denise Burge from her series of lectures at the Kentucky School of Art last October. Her piece Harriman related directly to the power plant breach near Harriman, Tennessee, in 2008. When attempting to visit the site, she was not allowed to stop or get out of her car, but noticed the workers wearing no protective gear during clean up. Burge offers viewers her reflections of the experience with sketchbook-like projections in black-and-white on a stark black-and-white quilt.

Appalachian Patchwork, by Julie Yoder.

Julie Yoder’s imposing installation, Appalachian Patchwork, is formed of fifty handmade pieces of paper arranged into a grid of 5 x 10, each printed with patterned, colorful mountains. Yoder explains that the scale of her work is a reference to the destruction caused by mountaintop removal with each print representing ten mountains or nearly 24,000 acres destroyed. From the artist’s statement Yoder explains: “I incorporated quilt square patterns to reference the history and culture of Appalachia. Appalachia has a long history of coal mining, and that history permeates the traditions and stories that are passed down through the families living in the region. I created a patchwork of mountains to demonstrate that the fates of the mountains and the people living in them are inextricably linked.”

Mountaintop Mini-Bar, by Albertus Gorman.

Many might be familiar with Albertus Gorman’s found-object sculptures in which he collects materials found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. But this piece is a step in a different direction. He still used found materials from the Falls to create Mountaintop Mini-Bar, but he moves away from site-specific work and embraces a more industrial motif. Here he fills found glass bottles of various shapes and sizes with pieces of coal fallen off passing barges. He states that in this piece he is “interested in local events having consequences in distant places.”

Project Reclamation is on view through January 12, 2013, at the Carnegie Center in New Albany. This must-see exhibit offers something for everyone, with multiple opportunities to be part of the conversation.

Project Reclamation

Featuring works by Alex Adams, Rachel Brewer, Denise Burge, Aron Conaway, Joel Darland, Wayne Ferguson, Albertus Gorman, Jo Ann Grimes, Joshua Howard, Michael Koerner, McKinley Moore, Mary Margaret Sparks, Julie Yoder

November 2, 2012 – January 12, 2013

The Carnegie Center

201 East Spring Street

New Albany, IN 47150