ViTA Space on Campus Showcases Video Art
Photo by Thai Nguyen
In the darkened atrium of the Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building, a towering screen projects vast, striking and occasionally troubling scenes from the snow-drenched, mountainous archipelago of Svalbard, Norway—one of the planet’s northernmost inhabited areas. Along with the images, a woman recites a poem about climate change featuring phrases from thinkers and public figures as wide-ranging as Karl Marx and Donald Trump.
“The People That Is Missing,” an eight-minute video by Spanish artist Cristina Lucas, is the inaugural exhibition in a new public art space in the heavily trafficked building. Video in The Atrium (ViTA) will showcase video art from the UMD Art Gallery’s own collection and new work from national and international artists.
The exhibition opens tonight as part of NextNOW Fest, the campuswide arts festival that features more than 40 free performances, installations and activities.
“We really want people to be able to stumble upon art without having to physically be in a gallery or travel to a museum,” said Taras Matla, director of the UMD Art Gallery. “We want to bring art directly to the many students and visitors who pass through this space, allowing art to be part of their daily lives.”
ViTA has been in the works for over a year. Matla and other gallery personnel readied a large wall for projections and invested in high-tech equipment for crisp visuals and audio. A control panel in the Art Gallery office allows for staff to manage the projections from behind the scenes. And a number of benches invite passersby to stop, watch and gather around the works.
The project is a collaboration between the Art Gallery and the university’s Arts for All initiative, which brings together the arts, technology and social justice to spark innovation and new ways of thinking.
Patrick Warfield, the director of Arts for All, said the inaugural exhibition is a perfect example of the power of the arts to foster social change. The film “interrogates climate change, commerce, history and identity to remind us how art can elevate the voices of those who are too often silenced,” he said.
“The People That is Missing” alternates between sweeping vistas of Svalbard’s natural beauty and its commercial industries such as international shipping, mines and tourist cruises, ultimately calling on viewers to take action to change the course of environmental destruction. The title is an original quote by the 20th-century Swiss artist Paul Klee who suggested that the task of art—especially avant-garde art—is to create a future audience, or “people,” with a collective purpose.
UMD Art Gallery Curatorial Assistant Melanie Woody Nguyen, a Ph.D. candidate in contemporary art and theory, managed all aspects of the exhibition. The wide-open, public display helps reinforce the work’s meaning, she said.
“When I approached Cristina about showing the work here at a university, especially in such a public space, she was excited about the prospect because young people and students could make up the ‘people that is missing,’” Nguyen said—“the next generation who will take on the task of combating the climate crisis.”
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