Our Tangled Choices: Art and the Environment at SVAC

Michelle Lougee, crocheted plastic

I recently viewed this duo exhibit at Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, Vermont. There I was struck by the diverse and different approaches the two artists took to express their concern for our environment. Pat Musick and Michelle Lougee explore the fragility of our planet including the choices humans make that impact the health of the earth.

I have followed Pat’s work for many years and know her personally. She is in her nineties, a consummate artist and very caring, concerned individual. She was married to a recently deceased astronaut, and they worked together, he would help engineer her ideas. They would give talks “the artist and the astronaut “ about how his view from space opened for him the immense fragility of earth. I see her work as sky bound, soaring, floating. 

I see Michelle’s work as earth-bound in the use of plastic bags, garbage, woven together to make forms.But both artists are ultimately saying in objects: “Look. Feel. We need to protect the earth and understand our place on earth as well as what we are doing.”

Pat Musick, with “Commence’ and “Ra” on back wall

Artist Pat Musick turns something as recognizable as the four seasons into an artful experience. She invites us to look beyond the familiar to the underlying energies contained in these seasonal events. Strength and fragility are intertwined in the continuous turnover from one season to the next.

Earthy colors help create a reverent mood, but there is a sense of gravity, too, in these subdued tones. Musick’s art explores the increasing vulnerability of the planet and the human/nature relationship responsible for its survival. At this decisive moment for our planet, the impact of her work is felt in its implicit reminder that we still have choices.

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The exhibit also features the voices of 11 community contributors, whose personal and professional lives are interconnected with the natural world.  Willa Bryant, Martha Carey, Rachel Coffield, James Crews, Alice Gilborn, Tina Hartell, Peter Hetko, Kathleen James, Bonnie Levis, Matt Proft, and Els van Woert, shared memories, musings, and observations while Megan Mahew Bergman led a writing group.

Timber! , by Michelle Lougee

Moving through an installation by artist Michelle Lougee is as much a physical experience as it is an aesthetic one. Biomorphic shapes float in mid-air, crawl along the wall, and protrude from the ground. They feel vaguely familiar, hinting at bacteria insects, plant life, and sea creatures.

Contrasting these organic forms is the synthetic material Lougee uses to make them–everyday plastic bags, cut into strips and crocheted like yarn. This tension between materials and message challenges the viewer to reconsider what the cultures’ bright colors and dynamic forms signify. They become visual elegies to all the organisms destroyed by plastic pollution as well as tangible manifestations of our own consumerism.

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It is a worthwhile and thought provoking exhibition that we all should see and consider.

The exhibit at SVAC’s Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum runs from August 28th to November 14th.


Photos: Dona Mara Friedman