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Herndon Gallery exhibit urges encounters with nature

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Antioch College is welcoming international environmental artist Shinji Turner-Yamamoto to campus this summer as an artist-in-residence who will play a major role in a collaborative, interdisciplinary exploration of our relationship with and in nature.

The multifaceted residency will begin with an immersive solo exhibition at Herndon Gallery that opens next Thursday, July 7, with a reception from 7–9 p.m. at the gallery and an artist talk at 7:30 p.m.

Titled “De Rerum Natura: On the Nature of Things,” the exhibition features a site-specific installation created in the gallery in the past week, recent works created during a residency in Ireland, and two sound pieces that came out of time spent exploring the geography and geology of the Pacific Northwest, among other works.

Turner-Yamamoto, who was born in Osaka, Japan, and studied at Kyoto State University before attending the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna, Italy, said he carries the label of “environmental” artist somewhat uncomfortably. While his materials, subjects and themes are tied to the natural world, his work is more aligned to traditional art-making than the often “conceptual” nature of contemporary environmental artists. A viewer doesn’t have to know the idea behind a piece, or the materials and process used, to respond to it.

At the same time, Turner-Yamamoto’s materials and processes are vital to the environmental and spiritual integrity of his work. He uses elemental materials to create his canvases and installations, not only painting with bronze, mica, fossil dust, ash, rainwater and other natural resources, but also integrating the effects of wind, water, fire and gravity.

In his artist statement, he writes that he works “with identifiable imagery to encourage humanity to encounter the essential in nature and time.” His use of historic and natural elements is meant to further encourage meditation and reflection on our environment.

His layering of natural elements on canvases and other surfaces creates a sedimentary, geologic effect, noted Jennifer Wenker, Herndon Gallery’s creative director. “His work is very spare, very minimal and reflective,” she said.

Wenker said that she is thrilled to have Turner-Yamamoto working in the gallery, and the exhibition will offer many points of exploration, discovery and reflection for viewers.

Turner-Yamamoto said that a rainbow-related theme has emerged from the new exhibition, tying the works together in an unanticipated way. While the pigments and tones are mostly earthen and muted, the natural principles of rainbows — prisms of light and water — resonate deeply for Turner-Yamamoto. Even the sound pieces that will fill the gallery space have a rainbow component.

“I was recording the sound of waterfalls in the (Pacific) Northwest, glacial waterfalls. It was beyond this valley,” he recalled. “You could see the river, and in front of you, this waterfall. I noticed a rainbow — from nothing. Then I started hearing a musical chord. I thought it was an acoustic hallucination, and then I realized there was a strong wind going through. The wind and waterfall were a prism, like a soundwave rainbow.”

After the exhibition opens, Turner-Yamamoto will continue working on campus in collaboration with Antioch’s ecology, anthropology, ecopsychology, fine arts and global seminar faculty and students throughout the summer term. He also will be connecting with Glen Helen and resident geologist Pete Townsend.

Currently based in Cincinnati, where his work is well-known and lauded, he said he expects to be on campus about three days a week at first, and then likely “all the time” as the work develops. He’ll have a studio in the Antioch Art Building, which until now has not been in use since the college’s closing. He said he’ll begin by meeting and talking with people, and by exploring the geologic nature of the surrounding natural areas. He said he is intriqued and looking forward to learning more about ecopsychology, a field he said is new to him.

The culmination of the summer residency will be an installation in the Art Building that will be part of the artist’s ongoing Global Tree Project, a major series that has earned him widespread international recognition.

The purpose of the Global Tree Project is to explore “a poetic reunion with nature, making visible bonds and similarities between plant life and humanity, emphasizing ecological wisdom and the interconnectedness of all life,” according to Turner-Yamamoto’s written description.

He published a book in 2012 that documents the realization of 11 site-specific installments he has completed around the world as part of the series.

“It’s huge that he wants to do one here,” Gallery Director Wenker said. One of the themes of the series is “the unending quality of things,” Wenker said. “Nothing is ever gone. Water in particular.”

Water will be the particular focus this summer for Antioch’s Global Seminar students, she noted. The effects of fracking and mountain top removal, and contamination of our water resources will be a part of the discussions, she said.

Turner-Yamamoto said he is hoping to be able to use water from the Yellow Spring in the local project, which he said will come together as the summer passes.

“Here I may not use a tree,” he said. The completion of the project will be unveiled in the fall.

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