Variously the dictionary defines a shrine as: a holy place because of its association with a sacred person or relic, typically marked by a building or other construction; a place associated with or containing memorabilia of a particular revered person or thing; a casket containing sacred relics; a reliquary; or, a niche or enclosure containing a religious statue or other object.
All the pieces in this show meet the formal aspects of shrines to one degree or another but vary widely in what they enshrine. One of the pieces speaks to ways that death is defied if lasting effigies are erected. Other pieces draw on current cultural practices of enshrining family culture and erecting memorials to the recently departed. There are pieces that start with traditional shrine or niche shapes but alter the established content in ways that asks questions about our expectations and how they effect our interpretations of what we are viewing. Some works speak to the effort and scale we commit to mark that which is seen as sacred, while others look at our society’s current move away from the mysterious.
We are a culture that uses shrines to honor the celebrity, remember a disaster, mark the location of a traffic accident or drive by shooting and are still able to recognize the heritage that makes theses acts of enshrinement significant.
In total the works shown here form a visual and intellectual exploration of an impulse and a practice common to every culture and society.
The work of all artists traces culture. It is a bit like the work of archeology uncovering and studying the bits and pieces that made up a society. The artist, of course, chooses what materials or objects will be used while the archeologists must be content with what can be found. But, both draw inferences and create elaborate constructs from the cultural artifacts that they work with.
Artists often start their work with what is closest to them so the initial encounter with a work may seem to be personal and even private. But, none of us exist in a vacuum so the images used to make art must refer, at some point, to the greater culture as well as the personal. The artist’s tools allow them to expand meanings and extend concepts by the juxtaposition of images and the use of signs and symbols. While archeology draws information from objects the artist adds meaning to the objects or images used. We do respond to art works for their formal value but our understanding of an art piece is dependent on our understanding of the culture or subculture that it refers to.
Steve Dent’s current work is a good example of these ideas. Steve is using family snapshots as the subject of his new painting series “Recollection”. While family snapshots have personal meaning these images also serve as markers for the culture of the seventies. The use of rich layered backgrounds that are full of obscured detail is a device that reminds us of the myriad of cultural and personal moments and the actions and interactions that make up our understandings and reactions.