Conceptual Creation: Installation Artist Comes to Harbor Art Gallery

MiMi Yeh

Not too long ago, I got through writing a piece describing the confusion and constant frustration involved in figuring out installation art. The conceptual aspect of non-traditional styles is particularly difficult with artists that are occasionally considered nuts.

Installation art deals with a representation of a concept in a concrete setting. Basically, it consists of translating the artist’s experience or interpretation into a visual record using any material available. Sometimes this can run along the lines of presenting a urinal as art (a la Marcel Duchamp) or spreading cheese over the expanse of a hotel room and melting it.

However, Rebecca Chesney, the current artist featured in the Harbor Art Gallery, doesn’t necessarily run to those extremes. The title of this exhibit “Assured of Nothing”, shows blue skies and lingering trails of plane paths leaking across the sky. In her artists’ statement, her work “usually deals with the effects that humans have on our landscape; the marks we leave behind and the way we manipulate our natural environment for our own benefit…”

The display is made up of randomly placed, silk-screened, sky-scened boxes and postcard sized photographs of brilliantly-hued aerial vistas all in varying shades of blue. Clear, cloudy, dark, and light, this piece holds an upbeat tempo with an occasional storm upon the horizon.

“Assured of Nothing” is just that. The startling skies evoke thoughts of boundless freedom. The clouds take on any form your imagination could wish. In a sense, there is nothing that would provide assurance or confidence, nothing that the mind could latch on to, find security with or take comfort in. The experience is entirely personal.

This work was begun when Chesney lacked physical freedom. Originally of Lancashire, England, Chesney was inspired when she moved back to live with her parents temporarily. Living out of boxes and feeling rather confined, she turned to the backyard garden overlooking the ocean. Without a means to do a great deal of traveling, she took another sort of journey within the confines of her head. Over the period of several months, she took pictures of clear skies and put together an expression of the freedom she had internalized.

Chesney normally focuses on site-specific installations, meaning she’ll use materials that are provided wherever she chooses to work. For the most part, she is used to working outdoors but says she’s not a “purist” and will experiment with any material regardless of whether it is natural or synthetic.

She has traveled to England and France and lived as an artist in residence, in spite of the fact that she has no formal training. Previously, she’d finished two years of college and found that she had a passion for sculpture. However, Chesney pursued a career in illustration, teaching, and commercial art until reaching the age of 27. She then decided to return to her initial interests, sculpture and working with nature.

Growing up in the Lancashire countryside definitely impacted her decision to work in the woods. As the child of two puppeteers, she was exposed to a multitude of craft workers and encouraged to work with her hands.

” ‘Assured of Nothing’ is a bit nihilistic and a bit negative,” Chesney agrees, “but nothing stays the same.” An appropriate conclusion for a thought-provoking sculpture.