by Tom Galaraga
With the new school year well on its way, the University of La Verne’s Harris Art Gallery, located in the Landis Academic Center, featured Martin Betz’s “The Ghost Town Project,” as the premier installation of what are to be collectively known as the Harris Gallery Projects.
The Harris Gallery projects are a series of installations that focus on emerging mid-career artists.
Betz, who is a resident of Los Angeles, was born in West Germany then relocated to the United States during the mid 1960s to pursue his career as an artist.
He later earned his master’s of fine arts degree from the Claremont Graduate University.
“The Ghost Town Project” is a video installation that portrays a scaled down version of a western ghost town, as well as a short film that he produced by the artist.
Using the filming apparatus that he created, he filmed the miniature ghost town while projecting various black and white filmstrips through the windows and doorways of the separate buildings.
“The result is an exhibit that leaves viewers questioning the validity of their own previous memories,” said Betz.
“I’m pretty excited about the way that he sort of interrelated all these different components; film, stage, models, facades, and incorporated them and allowed you to see how everything works together,” said Dion Johnson, the art studio manager.
The exhibit includes the viewing of the film, and the model ghost town.
Betz said that by including the apparatus as part of the exhibit, the project demonstrates the process of thought and the way humans perceive their memories.
“I think it’s a provocative piece, it has aspects of things that are familiar to all of us; video, photography, film, and the juxtaposition of that funky and obviously fake movie set is a wonderful dichotomy,” said Ruth Trotter, chair of the Art Department. “It is something everyone can relate to because it has aspects of personal experience, family experience, memories and it feels like a dream.”
“The Ghost Town Project” is a reflection of the way that memories often become distorted and exemplifies how as time passes, the details fade.
With the clash of modern film and video and the western ghost town model, Betz demonstrated the conflict between fact and fiction.
“In reality it’s kind of dealing with the hollowness of all that, of all your memory, and what your memories are really about,” said Betz. “It’s a commentary on what we do with our memory.”
Betz said that people tend to remember things in a manner that has the most optimistic outlook, simply to avoid having to deal with the negative aspects of daily life.
Betz also said that the ghost town itself actually represents the human form, while the various windows and doorways are methods of viewing personal memories from an outside vantage point as well as its ability to instill the viewer’s imagination.
Betz’s “The Ghost Town Project” also comments on the surrealism of society’s current environment, and how the entire environment is a façade that people live in to make their lives more manageable.
“If you look at societies that are not manageable, like Kosovo, you can only do that for a certain period of time before you mentally can’t deal with it and you have to leave,” said Betz. “It’s a big part of why we are, where we are, and how we do things.”
“The Ghost Town Project” entails very emotional and personal issues, and also deals with socialistic ideals that Betz feel are important thematically to his exhibit.
“The Ghost Town Project” will be will be exhibited at the Harris Art Gallery through Nov. 27. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.