By Don Richards
During the first three weeks of the spring semester, the Marlin and Regina Miller Art Gallery, located in the Sharadin Arts Building, hosted media artists Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway as part of its annual Artist in Residence program.
Thompson and Treadaway collaborated with six students from the Department of Art and Art History to design and construct a mixed-media, site-specific installation, titled The Antenna of the Race, inside the Miller Gallery.
In the middle of the white-box Miller Gallery, the artistic team erected a 24×16 foot “room within a room” using two-by-fours and plywood for the main structure.
A variety of handcrafted wooden fixtures reflecting local Pennsylvania German and Victorian architecture were installed to decorate the interior. These were distressed with black shoe polish. Afterwards, the shoe polish tins were left behind and became part of the artwork.
As visitors enter the structure through either of two large arches on opposite ends of the room, they are greeted by sounds from over forty salvaged woofers and tweeters that are embedded in the walls. These deliver soundtracks that accompany vintage video displays, projecting a combination of recordings of public television broadcasts and private home videos. For example, footage of a boxing match featuring Muhammad Ali is immediately followed by a home video of a suburban family engaged in yard work.
The title of the installation is based on a quote by the expatriate American poet and critic, Ezra Pound, who wrote, “artists are the antennae of the race, but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists.” While the exhibition title directly references the telescoping, metallic antennae that protrude from the entrance arches, it may also reflect the artists’ self-image and the cultural divide and class distinctions which they believe, perhaps erroneously, to exist between themselves and their Kutztown audience.
After the lecture, presented by the artists on Jan. 29, Thompson responded to a student’s question by saying, “We are often asked about the meaning of our work, but we tend to push back on that.” The artists did acknowledge the influence of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who is known for coining the phrase, “the medium is the message.”
Midway through the opening reception for the exhibition on Feb. 8, the installation was transformed into a performance space. An eight-member ensemble of students from the Music Department performed two new pieces created by jazz composer Jason Thompson the brother of visual artist Justin Thompson. A 19th-century Pennsylvanian coal mining workers’ song inspired one of these.
As was previously reported, Michelle Kiec, the recently appointed Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is encouraging increased collaboration across the departments of the college. The Antenna of the Race exhibition is a good example of this philosophy being carried out. It will remain on view at the Miller Gallery until March 8.