This post is part two of a two part blog series, “Wondering about Meaning” written by the Director of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Linda Duke.
Information overload affects artists, too. Some of the best new work evidences that artists have searched for meaning in the onslaught and employed their skills in sorting through dense information and making sense of complexity and ambiguity. Consider this work of art in the collection of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art: Dendrochronological Data Sequences by Andrzej Zielinski, a sculpture that evokes a computer keyboard and screen in a brightly colored “head comics” sort of style. Careful examination reveals that the “screen” is an actual cross-section slice of a tree or, rather, of three trees that have grown as one, each with a core and concentric annual growth rings. Tree rings are well known to record the effects of climate conditions. It may therefore dawn on the viewer, especially after reading the title the artist has given this work, that two modes of data storage are referenced here: the one recorded and preserved in the natural growth of trees since that botanical life form evolved on Earth, and the one employed by the hard drive of an early 21st c. computer. Andrzej simply presents us with this observation, in a material object constructed with meticulous craftsmanship that may be overlooked because of its playful form. The artist juxtaposes two means of data storage and two assumptions we may make about objects, the latter being that a humorously distorted form carries no serious meaning and that classic material techniques such as bronze casting, marble carving, and gilding would be employed only in a serious-looking sculpture.
In their artworks artists juxtapose the most baffling data points and toss to us, as viewers, intriguing hints and inspiring possibilities instead of burying us in didactics and rationales. They give us experiences and visions to unpack. In doing this, they continue an important and age-old function of art. They help us to understand our lives and the realities we experience. They encourage us to sense who we are. They suggest to us that the answer to “Who am I?” is never final. It grows and changes as we encounter the messy, complex, and confusing world around us. It’s an ongoing calculation of this plus those minus that. It’s worth wondering about.