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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Land, Architecture and Heritage

Budsberg and McCaw at the Lynden

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The Lynden Sculpture Garden recently held its Winter Carnival featuring artists constructing snow sculptures along with a variety of other activities. Amidst the snow and the steel sculptures were artists Brent Budsberg and Shana McCaw digging a trench by removing snow and sod along a staked out foundation for a small farmhouse.

Playing the role and looking the part of 19th century homesteaders, they worked for five hours hauling the sod into the forest and mysteriously returning with a sleigh full of coal bundled in burlap. The coal was carefully placed into the trench and then they returned to the forest to deliver more sod and collect more coal. As the sun was setting and the trench was finally full of coal, the two artists stood inside the outline of the foundation and lit the coal on fire. The fire burned high and then slowly simmered down to a red hot line in the snow reminiscent of the sometimes tragic endings of real houses. At this point, the actors left the burning outline and returned to the forest.

This performance/installation is just one part of the current exhibition at the Lynden titled "Inside/Outside: Shana McCaw Brent Budsberg." In the gallery is a display of large-scale photographs of farmhouse ruins, a shovel and pickax, and the artists/actors. There is also a framed narrative describing what happened (in case you missed the performance) along with a red stitched drawing on black paper that references the hot coals burning in the shape of the foundation. Although Brent and Shana have been creating sculptures, installations, performances, drawings and photographs for many years, this piece (and I do think of all the elements as one piece) is different than their earlier work in the way it weaves a multilayered narrative that the viewer physically and mentally must discover.  Even though the coals are now ashes, it is this haunting outline of the foundation that the viewer must find to piece the narrative together. Each element of the exhibition is a portal into another time and place and offers a different way to think about the land, architecture, heritage, and the people who intersect with our past and present.

In some ways "Inside/Outside" seems to reflect this internal/external relationship we have with our past as much as it is a literal description of the exhibition.  Brent and Shana's conjuring of the past through their performance and artwork, although fictional, seems hauntingly real.  It is perhaps the juxtaposition of the "real" ashes against the photographs that convinces the viewer that a real event did occur.  The element of writing further documents and solidifies the event. The artwork becomes a manifestation of the labors and struggles of those who came before us and an honoring of those efforts. If you have the opportunity to visit the Lynden, make sure to go back and forth between the elements of "Inside/Outside" and read the narrative. ­It is worth the time to do so and the connection the artwork has to the original 1860s farmhouse, adjacent to the gallery, only deepens its meaning.

"Inside/Outside: Shana McCaw Brent Budsberg" is up until April 10 at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. Visit www.lyndensculpturegarden.org or call (414) 446.8794 for more information.
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