Aug 29, 2013
09:05 AM
Arts & Entertainment

In Downtown New London, the Provenance Center Enlightens and Educates Through Art

Artist Anita Gangi Balkun is struggling with the birth of a notion. She's trying to organize the premier installation of her wall piece, "Grocer's Dilemma"—a long hand-weave of countless rows of polystrapping, that stuff that holds together the piles of newspapers and boxes of produce your local supermarket receives every day, which she's strategically highlighting with aluminum foil inserts—in these last few free moments she's got before hitting the road to teach a class at the Greater Hartford Arts Academy. Getting the elements to fall into place is not so easy—after all, they're pretty flimsy. "Nothing is holding this together except the straps themselves, and the tension I'm creating with push pins top and bottom," says Balkun. "There's no tape, no glue." Still, it's got to look great the next day, Saturday, Aug. 24, when Abstract Recycling: The Offsite Show opens in the Atrium Gallery of the Provenance Center in downtown New London.

Now in its third incarnation, Abstract Recycling—which runs through Sept. 21—is a recurring show designed to raise environmental awareness and, in the words of center owner and curator Nadesha Mijoba, "make a statement about the amount of waste we generate, where we put it, how it affects us and how we react to it." Its exhibits, by mixed media artists Balkun, Debora Aldo, Lorencia Ciprus and RT Spitz, are all created out of re-purposed elements ranging from broken mirrors to crushed soda cans. Aldo's "Literally Litter," a collection of 120 such cans assembled on a frame, is a construction that resulted from three weeks of dog-walking with her husband: "We founds hundreds more of them," she says. The "compulsive picker-upper" (as she calls herself) is primarily a mosaic artist, creating sophisticated works—including a piece utilizing andamento-patterned shards of Italian glass found at a basilica in St. Louis—out of cast-off bricks, tile and landscape materials.

One of the show's most compelling pieces is RT Spitz's "Conception of Art & Trash" (at left), a wall-mounted installation consisting of a round red human egg—fashioned from an old-school metal snow saucer—under siege by "sperm" whose bodies are actually stamped metal gun-stocks collected from Calamari Recycling Co. Inc. of Essex. It's perhaps the most literal interpretation of the idea, says Spitz, that "art can be born from things that are recycled and discarded." It's also the biggest piece in Abstract Recycling, which, in its first two installments, was hosted by the North Stonington Transfer Station. "The idea behind that was to have an art exhibition in its natural setting, so that setting seemed to have the most meaning in this case," Spitz says. The recycling center and its grounds also afforded the show more space, freedom and yes, useful materials. "When we did the show there, the artists who participated were only allowed to use materials that they found at the Transfer Station," Mijoba says. "Last year, we had three pieces that were created right on its grounds, so the environment itself became part of these pieces. Some of the exhibits we had were 80 feet wide by 30 feet high and 20 feet deep. Obviously, we couldn't bring pieces that large into the New London gallery, so I had to curate this show differently." Nonetheless, she adds, the message is the same: "Let's look at these materials differently. Let's look for beauty where we may not normally see it. Let's also be aware that our behavior has an impact, no matter how small, on this planet that we all share."

Abstract Recycling well reflects the Provenance Center's overall mission, which is twofold: using the arts as a vehicle for exploring our understanding, awareness and recognition of our cultural diversity, and hosting exhibits that deal with issues of social and environmental justice. The center was established by Mijoba in 2009, and inspired by her professional career as president of Mijoba Communications, LLC, a private consulting firm that assesses and advises other businesses—particularly health-care, higher-education and community-based organizations—concerning their cultural sensitivity to employees, students and people they serve who are of different backgrounds. These issues have been a passion since her childhood in Venezuela (when Mijoba moved to the United States, she learned English at Boston University before going on to earn a master's degree in Community and Economic Development at Southern New Hampshire University and a second in public health at BU). She's come to the conclusion that, "there's no better vehicle for encouraging dialogue around our cultural similarities and differences than the arts—it's such a universal language."

 

In its first four years, the Provenance Center's gallery spaces (three in all) have hosted 45 shows—spotlighting artists from Latin America, the Middle East and China—as well as thematic exhibits addressing such subjects as Death Penalty: Justice & Consequences, Italian Vibrations (designed to celebrate 2013 as "The Year of Italian Culture in the United States") and World of Woman: Global Images. There have also been special collaborations with Mitchell College and Connecticut College, including off-site exhibits and talks by visiting professors. Mijoba says that the Provenance Center's most striking exhibit so far has been Child Trafficking: 21st Century Slaves, a joint project with NOT FOR SALE Campaign Connecticut, Operation 21st Century (a student-led movement to encourage young people to end slavery) and the Connecticut Humaities Council.

Says Mijoba, "We looked at human trafficking from two perspectives: the consumer side—how child slavery is a part of the chocolate we eat, and the clothes we wear—and the ugly, dangerous underground of sex trafficking. I didn't realize that human trafficking has become the third most profitable illegal enterprise in the world, after drugs and arms trafficking. It's very cheap to buy a human being today, about $90, the same you pay for a pair of shoes you discard. World poverty creates these vulnerabilities, and yet, trafficking goes on in our own backyard to a surprising extent." She points out that 30 percent of young runaways in the United States go on to be victims of child trafficking. "Fortunately, there's an abolitionist movement worldwide—and many of the artists we featured were abolitionist artists."

Provenance Center, 155-191 State St., New London, (860) 405-5887 (provenancecenter.com). Hours Wed.-Fri 1-5:30, Sat. by appointment. Check the website for other center activities, such as talks, workshops and films.

In Downtown New London, the Provenance Center Enlightens and Educates Through Art

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