Trails and Thresholds
By Tom Wachunas
“The mountains were his master. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.” –Thomas Wolfe, from Look Homeward, Angel
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
EXHIBIT: Courage: An Attempted Explanation/Understanding, installation by Debra DeGregorio, THROUGH OCTOBER 1, at Malone University Fountain Gallery, located in the Johnson Center, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton
Among the more intriguing aspects of this highly engaging exhibit by Debra DeGregorio are the disarmingly simple physical materials she uses in delineating what can fairly be called a daunting contemplation - the dichotomy of explaining a thing (or idea) and understanding it. In this case, as the title of the installation tells us, she attempts to explain and understand courage.
“WELL ThIS IS what hAppeneD TO Me” is a subtitle in block letters adhered to the wall just below a horizontal sprawl of four ‘mountains’ made of painted cloth mâché distributed between six sumi ink drawings on paper. These elements are loosely connected by arcing lines of tiny orange flags on straight pins, a scattering of rounded paper forms painted to suggest blue lakes, and meandering squiggles of wire.
In her statement for the show, DeGregorio calls her formal arrangements “approachable micro-worlds.” Herein she addresses “…the mammoth and courageous task of living every day in the vast interior and exterior arena of history, memory, emotions, interactions and futures.” Whew. Talk about the rarefied air of mountaintops.
DeGregorio labels her mountains as an “explanation.” These are fairly literal representations, presented from an aerial perspective, of apparent volume, mass and texture either already traveled and known (as indicated by dotted lines of “footprints,” marker flags and miniscule coils of climbing rope) or, perhaps, yet to be traversed.
Her drawings, on the other hand, represent “understanding.” These are relatively more abstract configurations executed in sumi ink, a highly prized medium originated centuries ago by Japanese masters of ink wash painting. Such masters often rendered landscapes from memory, and their elegant images were intended to prompt reflection on the numinous essence of the subject matter. DeGregorio’s fluid and visceral ink drawings tap into that tradition, exuding a similarly intuitive, meditative air.
I see the combined visual elements of this installation as representing the gestalt of knowledge (“explanation”) and wisdom (“understanding”). One might embrace the work as a codified map, or a collective symbol of the challenging questions and breakthroughs that dot the landscape of life itself. Or call it the artist’s personal journal of encountered thresholds - “Well this is what happened to me.”
At the risk of further assigning too lofty an interpretation of the work at hand, I leave you with this thought: The vagaries of living are such that whether negotiating capricious, wandering trails, or purposefully forging paths to new terrains, all of them require courage if we are to ultimately discern the true meaning of the journey.
P.S. If you visit the Fountain Gallery to see this installation, and haven’t viewed the Malone Adjunct Faculty exhibit in the McFadden Gallery (reviewed here at http://artwach.blogspot.com/2013/07/different-strokes.html ), please note that that show has been apparently extended until Sept. 23.
PHOTOS: Installation full view and details of Courage: An Attempted Explanation/Understanding by Debra DeGregorio