by Michael Anklin
When walking into the University of La Verne’s Harris Art Gallery during the past three weeks, one encountered a simple, yet intriguing moon-like scenery.
The artwork for the exhibition called “Incidents” was created by Connie Zehr, an artist who is also a professor at the Center for the Arts at Claremont Graduate University.
The visitor first discovers a large 16’x16’x12″ gray and black square from which cylinder-like “mountains” emerge. Some have a peak, others are flat-topped. A few have yellow, orange, pink or white tips that make them resemble snow-capped mountains or erupting volcanos.
What makes this work truly astonishing is that while it looks solid, it is all made of natural colored sand the artist has collected over years.
Behind a wall, photographs of previous installations are on display. The photographs remind one of water ponds or formations in the sand at the beach left by the reclining tide.
Explaining the title “Incidents,” Zehr said, “It means that something happened. And it isn’t anything major. The material is not permanent.”
Some of the “mountain tops” are not as neatly done as others. It looks as if the wind blew the sand out of place. Zehr said, “I wanted a situation where everything wasn’t perfect. Nothing was kind of happening [with everything in place].”
Zehr said she plans the installations on a small scale initially and estimates the amount of sand needed. The color of the sand is natural. Zehr also said she did not color it artificially. She used black to assist the other colors in standing out.
“It sort of brings you to another place,” said Jiyoung Oh, a former student of Zehr’s. “It’s very sensual, it’s very calm, it puts you in this meditative atmosphere.”
Oh pointed out the work’s “human, earthy calmness” and its “very inviting colors.”
“Those individual pieces [on the photographs] are kind of speaking to each other. They are connected,” she said.
Senior international student Guchi Sakaguchi, an arts and sociology major, compared “Incidents” to the previous works exhibited at the Harris Art Gallery by Claremont Graduate School faculty Michael Brewster and Roland Reiss.
“This is the most intriguing art show [yet],” Sakaguchi said “It is a mixture of a traditional way of art and the contemporary.”
Sakaguchi said it reminded him of Japanese gardens, where a scenery is created without water, just with rocks and sand.
One might wonder why Zehr does not make the sand solid so the artwork could last forever.
“That is one of the reasons why I’m using the photographs,” she said. “It”s like anything in life, it has to go, I kind of like that; it relates to life. The quality of impermanence is very important to me.”
In her statement, Zehr wrote, “the ephemeral quality of loose sand continues to be its fascination and its disadvantage. Working in a large scale, in public, and on-site has placed necessary limitations on the form of the work and consequently on the development of ideas.”
Concerning the photographs, she wrote, “the prints for this exhibition were made from transparencies taken during the process of working on a small scale in the studio.”
She wrote that “the clarity and sensuous ‘object-presence’ of the original three-dimensional experience cannot be duplicated.”
She pointed out, however, that “the low resolution digital image has potential for another kind of visual experience. Placing the prints on shelves at a slight angle keeps them in the realm of object.”
Referring to the work’s short life, the artist’s statement says, “their impermanence allows the evidence of process, the viable pause, the potential havoc. Possession of this work has been an act of memory and imagination.”
Since 1969, Zehr’s work has been exhibited on three continents, the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. All her temporary installations are created on-site for the time frame of their pageantry only.
The exhibition lasts through Dec. 11. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Harris Art Gallery is located on the south side of the Landis Academic Center on ground level.