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Published September 06 2010

Concordia show displays art inspired by our world

It’s a little bit like the scene from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in which Lucy Pevensie pulls the sheet from a gargantuan armoire and steps into the land of Narnia.

As you open the 16 small wooden cabinets in the current Cyrus M. Running Gallery exhibit, it’s like opening one little world after another.

The comparison to C.S. Lewis’ fantastical “Narnia” stories is a fitting one for an art exhibit titled “From Curiosity to Wonder.” The show runs through Sept. 19 at the Concordia College gallery and features the work of area artists who were each asked to fill one of the walnut-wood cabinets with something that inspires them to wonder at the world.

“I thought it would be interesting to ask artists from the community to think about and express where they continue to find wonder and enchantment when, oftentimes, you can just Google something and figure it out,” says Heather Hardester, manager of exhibitions for the gallery and curator of “From Curiosity to Wonder.”

As usual, this first Running Gallery show of the year is related to the theme of Concordia’s Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium.

This year’s symposium, held Sept. 14-15 on the Concordia campus, will have the theme of “Awakening to Wonder: Re-enchantment in a post-Secular Age.”

Among the artists in the show is Dwight Mickelson. Along with making all of the cabinets, he also took up the task of filling one of them, incorporating a cucumber vine pod and a cow bone he found along the Buffalo River.

“I have a particular interest in nature and forms in nature,” Mickelson says.

Many people he knows have a tendency to look to an afterlife, to God, “to something other that sort of lifts them out of their everyday life,” he says. But he believes the natural world provides sufficient wonderment if people take time to look at it.

Heidi Goldberg, associate professor of art at Concordia, created “The Hill: How Things Come Together.” In it, a variety of objects like barbed wire, hair, a container of honey and a coyote tooth are suspended from the top of the cabinet.

“It’s about a place,” she says.

That place is north of Ashley, N.D. It’s home to “incredible” rolling hills, granite rocks, wind, sun and a beauty that Goldberg finds overwhelming.

“It’s this place where I feel like there’s a really strong connection to the past” and to the people who have been there before here, she says.

Siri Preston titled her piece “Indescribable.” The inside of the cabinet is a joyful sky blue with little clouds suspended from the box’s roof. Danielle Gravon’s “Beyond Your Immediate Reality” is home to what looks like a cozy personal library, complete with a little wire man reading a map and shelves holding books and sea shells.

Robb Siverson, who created a piece for the show, calls the exhibit “kind of all over the place,” saying it’s “just fascinating to see all the different approaches.” As a scholar, Hardester studies the history of museums, and borrowed the idea for the cabinets from a collecting phenomenon that began in Renaissance Europe. People developed “cabinets of curiosity,” in which they would house various rarities. The items in the cabinets (which could actually be a complete room, Hardester says) could range from pieces of art to objects believed to be a unicorn’s horn to images of human disfigurement and beyond.

“Oftentimes they were kind of mysterious things,” Hardester says. “And they were collected mostly by men to be studied and contemplated and a lot of it also revolved thinking about these things from the world as God’s creation, like the wonder of God’s creation.”

And those cabinets seemed like an appropriate avenue through which to explore wonder.

But those reflections about wonder aren’t immediately visible to the gallery visitor. As one walks into the gallery, the 16 uniform cabinets are closed, lending the exhibit a clean and tidy, but also monotone feel.

“One of the things about the symposium that inspired me was thinking about, kind of, the state of the world and the state of our minds in a technological age and postmodernism and how things tend to be really sterile and clean and uniform and look almost manufactured in a way. And I wanted to evoke that sense in the gallery at first.” Hardester says.

“I wanted that visual setup to inspire some sort of curiosity as to why are these plain boxes on the wall, what am I supposed to do here,” she says.

And if that curiosity helps lead someone to some art-induced wonder, that would be just fine with the artists who created it.

“If you stop wondering, you stop questioning, life becomes really uninteresting,” says Mickelson. “When I stop wondering, I worry about myself.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734