This Is Land Is My Land

new local art show Land:Mine explores our precious land

Hope Greene, photos by Kelsey Smith

WHOSE LAND IS IT ANYWAY? Artists Jyl Kelley and Lori Chilefone curated “Land:Mine” at the Heyde Center.
Artists Jyl Kelley and Lori Chilefone curated “Land:Mine” at the Heyde Center.

Land is a solid that extends down as rock until rock becomes fluid. Land is an idea, a memory, a promise – evoking borders, blood, and belonging. Land is the word for arriving at the edge of an unnamed shore. Land is layers of meaning, layers of artifacts, layers of rock. Land is a vast connection. Co-curators Jyl Kelley and Lori Chilefone began shaping “Land:Mine – 30 Perspectives” on our horizon almost a year ago by asking artists, writers, and musicians to sift through those layers and produce artworks about what they found there.

This is not the first time that the two have collaborated on curating an art exhibition. In 2014, they worked together with artist Phillip Schladweiler on “Dust on My Boots,” an exhibition focused on veterans of the armed forces.

“Both art exhibits Jyl initiated for the Heyde (Center for the Arts) were rewarding because they were based on current issues that require our awareness and compassion, and are greatly underrepresented in mainstream media coverage,” Chilefone said. “Sharing something meaningful from and with our community is the motivating fire for both of us.”

Kelley, an artist and professor at UW-Eau Claire, said this show was developed as a result of our concerns regarding the sustainability and wellbeing of the land and the joy of celebrating the importance of earth and land.

“The title ‘Land:Mine’ really comes from my interest and involvement with many local people from Western Wisconsin and surrounding states living in close proximity to sand mines,” Kelley said. But though the original inspiration was silica mining, she continued, “We knew that we wanted to remain open to a diversity of interpretation by artisans.”

The show fills three rooms at the Heyde Center and encompasses a wide range of materials, disciplines, and interpretations. Thirty-three artists, including some familiar local names as well as visiting artists from around the United States, turned their collective powers onto the theme “Land:Mine,” each finding his or her own path through the possibilities. Is “land” magic or fact? Community or commodity? Friend or foe? Through photographs, paintings, sculptures, video, music, textiles, collage, poetry, drawings, and prints, the show presents a complex and kaleidoscopic picture of land seen through many carefully (but differently) focused eyes.

Kelley and Chilefone’s selection process for this show centered more on choosing artists for their point of view and past work rather than selecting from already completed works of art. This meant that they did not see many of the finished works until the time came to hang the exhibition.

“It was a pleasure … a mysterious and wonderful pleasure,” Kelley said. “It felt right to allow the artists equal responsibility for shaping the final content of the show. We spent quite a bit of time traveling around to open studios, researching artists and artworks, and kept our eyes open for six or seven months in search of artists whose work fit the theme of compassion for the land.”

As artists themselves, the co-curators understood the gift of expertise and expense they were asking from the participating artists and so produced a printed catalog of the show as a return gift. “Artists are often asked to participate in exhibitions without compensation for their work, or support by way of materials, storage, insurance, shipping or time.  With the goal to acknowledge the value of artists time we decided upon an exhibition catalog –  it could be used as a promotional tool and stand as a record of how artists are responding to this place at this time,” Kelley said.

They plan to present copies to the Heyde Center, area art centers, visitor centers, and local libraries in order to extend the exhibition’s reach to more people.

With the exhibition hosted by the Heyde Center, a catalog generously sponsored by Save the Hills Alliance, UWEC’s Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies, and The Chippewa Falls Chamber of Commerce, and the Chippewa County Historical Society’s mobile lumberjack museum parked out in front of the opening, Kelley pointed out, “The project is really a community project. That’s the complete beauty of it. It’s very meaningful and rewarding to have something where you see how all these people come to know this place we’re sharing.”

“Land:Mine” runs through Friday, Oct. 14, at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls. The gallery hours are Monday through Thursday 10am-5pm, and Friday 10am-4pm. The galleries will also be open starting one hour before any scheduled evening performance. For more information, visit cvca.net.

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