Nestled on North Adams’ Main Street, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ intimate exhibition space, Gallery 51, is lit brightly, with a combination of artificial and the natural light emanating from the large windows in the front of the building. For its current exhibition, Gallery Director Nicholas Rigger has overseen a deeply personal investigation into the language between six artists and their relationships with the natural world. “Reflecting Ecologies: Artists in Nature” reads as a medley of song, timeless and poignant. In the culture of climate change, these works are reminders of what it is we are protecting; the great diversity of life is deeply determined by every action and reaction of what is seen and unseen, whether we are aware of it or not.
Upon walking into the Gallery 51 space, one is greeted by a wall-sized ink painting dispersed randomly with smaller paintings of ocean bathing. In Joan Hanley’s “SumiSwimmers,”figures cavort in the manner of dolphins, energetically floating and moving across the wall. They swim across, up, down, in circles, until the figures create patterns of direction and motion. The smaller paintings weave their way through the figures and create focal points of ocean scenes interacting with the wall swimmers. There is a contrast between the wall beings, icons of suggestion — animal/human hybrids — and the smaller paintings of people enjoying a day at the water’s edge. Coexisting is the almost supernatural experience of moving through water freely, movement for its own sake, with the rituals involved with the preparation for a family vacation.
Along two walls are the works of Ashley Eliza Williams, whose work is centered upon striking a dialogue between herself and the non-human entities she studies and encounters. In this time in which many are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the first animal- human dialogue generated by artificial intelligence, this artist has approached this manifestation from a different portal, simply by paying attention. She writes, “…I dreamed of being able to express myself with bioluminescence… instead of spoken words.” The artist has come full circle, employing an almost primitive method and experience in communicating with animals, rocks, clouds; she knows that each are dependent on one another for existence, and if that is so, there is a raw element of continuity, of understanding that exists from one being to the next.