Photo by Lee Baker
On Aug. 30, students, faculty and appreciators alike gathered in Bloch Hall to peruse the creations of UM’s first visiting artist of the year: Ying Kit Chan, decorated artist and professor at the University of Louisville. The exhibition is aptly named “New Work” and is composed of “The Red Alert Series,” which examines a critical problem in our developing society: environmental degradation and exploitation.
At first glance, the eclectic pieces lining the walls of the gallery don’t have much in common; when examined more closely, however, the meaning behind the vibrant display quickly unfolds.
“Every object is painted red, so it takes time to get to what the object is,” said Amy Feger, an adjunct instructor at the University of Montevallo. “It slows you down in thinking about that object, but also it might make you think of it as beautiful, whereas before you would have thought of that object as trash.”
And trash is exactly the opposite of what the displayed items actually are: recyclable, and at one point carelessly tossed to the side by humanity for the environment to swallow.
“Plastic, of course, is so cheap, so easily made,” said Chan. “You use it, you throw it away, but then who’s going to deal with that?”
The salvaged plastic items consist of everyday objects in various states of ruin, all painted bright red: torn soap bottles, crushed jugs joined together, broken containers, styrofoam chunks and other recyclables that range from vaguely familiar to entirely unrecognizable from their original shape.
During his gallery talk, the artist impressed upon his audience the philosophies of Deep and Shallow Ecology and touched briefly upon Taoist and Buddhist ideologies by discussing the inspiration and intention behind the collection’s two largest pieces.
“Convenience,” inspired by a line from Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” spells the word convenience in chinese characters using grocery bags painted red, positioned on black tarps.
“Dukkha,” a sanskrit phrase which can be described as a Buddhist principle translated as suffering, stress or anxiety, is also depicted by its corresponding chinese characters in the same medium.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Chan of his more-than-30-year career as an artist, going on to state, however, that his work has not always been so focused.
When asked about the spark that triggered the creation of this exhibition in particular, Chan expressed his concerns about the collection of marine debris floating in the Pacific Ocean, commonly known as the “Great Pacific garbage patch.”
The patch, the largest of five major areas like it in the world, is approximately twice the size of Texas, and garners heavy scrutiny from those concerned about it breaking up into smaller, less easily-retrieved pieces. The urgency of producing some solution for the growing patches is expressed by the in-your-face color scheme of the artwork.
“Red is a final alert. This is a final alert for us,” said Chan.
Kate Mosley, a UM art major in attendance, said, “I think it’s a really powerful statement. It’s really simple, but it really shows you something that we all need to be thinking about.”
Chan has received several public awards, exhibited his art on a national scale and studied with some of the field’s greatest and most influential minds. This exhibition, along with the rest of his prominent professional history, demonstrates the vested interest in social change and environmental ethics he possesses.
Chan’s work will remain on display in the Bloch Hall Gallery until Sept. 20, 2018, at 4 p.m.