Friday, July 19, 2019

Spoken from the Inside

Spoken from the Inside

"When You Wake You Will Have Cake" / 2019, cast paper

"Im Reading Them Again, the Ones You Didn't Burn" / cast paper

"Born in a Diaspora" / 2018, cast paper

"Beast of Burden" / 2018, bronze

"We Would Have Listened If We Had Known" / 2019, bronze and cast paper

By Tom Wachunas

   “…The birds are infused with my experience of prison, but not in the sense that birds are free. Flight for birds is not freedom; they fly to avoid death…” - Treacy Ziegler

   EXHIBIT: States of Waiting - work by Treacy Ziegler / at Massillon Museum Studio M, THROUGH AUGUST 11, 2019 / The Massillon Museum is located at 121 Lincoln Way, East (Ohio 172) in downtown Massillon. A visit to the Massillon Museum is always free.  Call the Massillon Museum at 330-833-4061 or visit  for more information.

   Ziegler writes the online art journal, "Broad Street Review," which can be read at:  

 Her website is

 and the website for the prison work is 

   I viewed this sculpture exhibit weeks ago. It’s been haunting me ever since. Like a persistent sort of psychospiritual stalker. Many times I’ve asked my relentless pursuer, “what is it you want of me?”  Each time the answer is the same: “Your wonderment.” And so here I succumb.

   Treacy Ziegler describes an intriguing progression in her statement for this show: from seeing a science display of birds mounted in glass cases, to making drawings of those birds, and then on to bronze sculptures of the birds. “…I wanted to hold this round form in my hands,” she has written, and further on, “…I did not know why, but shortly after seeing the birds, I felt compelled to go into prisons…”

   That would lead to her teaching art in prisons, and establishing Prisoner Express, a through-the-mail entity affiliated with Cornell University which has enabled her to create projects for prisoners throughout the U.S. She receives approximately 20,000 letters from prisoners annually. This in turn led Ziegler to make additional sculptures in paper, cast from those letters. Rather than throwing the prisoners’ missives away, incorporating them into her sculptures of animals is, as she states, “…more respectful to the loneliness, hope, despair, and gratitude often reflected in the letters.”

   Yes, there’s much to wonder about here, much beyond the pale of comfortable certainty. What are we to make of those big sheep forms made from the paper of prisoners’ letters? Sheep. Docile, dominated, destined to be shorn. Or slaughtered? In “When You Wake You Will Have Cake,” 24 sheep heads are lined up on long shelves along two walls of the gallery. This stark procession of creatures with mouths clenched shut and eyes like unfathomable caverns might well be a metaphor for the societally-sanctioned subculture of institutionalized apartheid and diaspora that we call prisons.

   And what of those birds? Guardians, or hunters? Overseers of dreams and messengers of freedom, or harbingers of despair and futility? There’s a riveting conflation of opposing forces, of conflicted states of living, resonant in Zeigler’s pieces. They exude a kind of timeless, primal rawness and spirituality that reminds me of ancient totems, effigies, or idols.

   ‘States of Waiting,” Ziegler has titled this arrested (and arresting) body of work. Yet again I wonder: waiting for what, or whom, exactly?  And who’s doing the waiting? The artist? The prisoners she encounters? The artworks themselves, seeking our gaze? Can ‘waiting’ be more than merely serving time, and instead become a creative act - a potentially fruitful prelude to catharsis, to transformation?

   Or maybe it’s us, the viewers, who are ultimately the ones waiting. In all of its metaphorical symbolism, in all the questions or enigmas it may raise in our minds and hearts, this is truly compelling art. Looking at it is indeed to enter a state of waiting.

   So we wait. We wait and watch. And we watch until our surrender to the simple act of willful seeing becomes a state of…wonderment.

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