Nothing is Forever
An Artist Statement by Renée Calway
Art unifies, educates, heals and saves lives. Conceptually, my work provides a lens to put the world “outside the self” into perspective for viewers and participants. Many pieces are based on data, however, as interactive opportunities are extended to the community, another realm of research inspires the forms and prompts the scrutinization of oppression on both a personal and systemic level. It is the reciprocal experience with the art that stimulates the mind, awakens the soul, engages the senses, and allows viewers and participants the sacred space for discussion of topics that are otherwise difficult to explore.
The concepts that fuel my designs determine the media utilized. Unconventional materials like foods (sugar, candy, easy cheese, beans, etc.), recyclables and trash (plastic bags, #5 lids, broken sunglasses, etc.) promote good health and ecological awareness. With a special interest in intersectional studies of socio-politics and statistics, some topics covered include overpopulation, military occupation, industrial complexes, consumerism, debt, classism, racism, feminism, local histories and healing. Community, togetherness and common experience become apparent in contrast to the visual metaphors depicting offenders of oppression. Many of the pieces, like Rising Tides, Rising Tensions, were designed based on intersectional research (in this case, from physical newspaper archives in the Slover Library's Sargeant Memorial Collection), where multiple topics like access to education, city development, housing and environmental damage are overlapped to identify the complex history of oppression as the cause of the issues our communities face today. Other pieces like Diabetic Amputee and The Latest in Bird Nests pinpoint specific, singular issues like diabetes and housing, but within the context of consumerism, like “What’s Trending” and sugar addictions.
Although research is conducted to provide statistics that require and inspire a visualization in order to comprehend them, another form of research comes from the involvement of the community in the inspiration, design, display and sometimes the construction of the pieces. Many of the artworks invite viewers to approach and participate in order to evaluate their “self” within the context of the larger subject, as seen in American Capitalism: Gini-Inefficient. On the opposite side of the engagement spectrum, Beyond the Body and Eco-Conscious LOVE were built with the involvement of members of the community. Discussions with various volunteers inform the concepts and design decisions that result in the final form of the artwork. Participants open, study and discuss wounds of trauma felt from trickle-down history, explicit hatred and lack of consciousness for others and the Earth which supports and nurtures us. These contemporary moments, presented at venues like libraries and theaters, facilitate bonding, self-expression, activism and healing through visual arts that many would not otherwise have access to. The art reminds us that, although everything is “just the way it is”, none of it stays the same forever. Through conversation, activism and healing, everything has the power to change.