I recently attended an artist’s talk by Treacy Ziegler at the Arnot Museum in Elmira NY. Treacy talked about the pieces in her multi-media installation “From Confinement / The Waiting” at the Arnot Musuem, and about the her experiences exhibiting in and working with prisons. It was fascinating for me to hear Treacy’s experience with the inmates and the influence it had on her work. Most of the talk was about teaching the inmates how to think about art differently. As an artist I was puzzled to hear her say “I don’t believe art should be about self-expression” What do you think?
She writes about the installation in her Statement:
“A few years ago, during one of my first visits to several prisons throughout the east and mid United States, I asked the warden on seeing the cramped small cells if “memory” was an inmate’s largest dimension of space? He replied, “Memory is the first dimension of space that the inmate loses.”
My initial interest in exploring this landscape of confinement is as a painter of landscape and evolved out of exhibiting my paintings in a medical setting where patients had very serious illnesses. Although I was struck by the responses, I was struck more by the realization that my work was in a space where the viewer was not only challenged by that space but also defined by that space. It seemed to me that the most extreme example of this ontological aspect of space is prison. Whoever one is, doctor, lawyer, artist, one is defined as an inmate in prison. I wanted to know what would happen if I put my work, those landscapes of very personal place, into the space of prison: a box within a box. Do these metaphoric personal places become annihilated by the larger space, or do the paintings create place within this institutionalized space? And if so, how? Since the project started three years ago, I have donated over 80 paintings to prisons and have had exhibitions in several prisons. At one prison I donated 47 large paintings that now hang throughout the inmates’ blocks.
In additions to these exhibitions and donations, I conduct workshops with the inmates. While the focus of these workshops is learning about art, I use “landscape” as a means for the inmates to explore the potential of place through reconstructing the elements of any landscape. What are those basic visual cues that connect person to place?
When one is not free to physically explore space and when space is consistently transparent (instead of a combination of the transparent and opaque spaces to which one is accustomed), can “home”, that primary sense of place, be established?”
Currently at the West End Gallery we have these new light-box paintings by Treacy Ziegler. Painted on plexiglass they glow from behind. Stop in to see them and take the time to read more of Treacy’s writing about her work at: Treacyziegler.com
- Bridget B. van Otterloo