Karen Bright: The Whimsy after the Storm
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
By Margaret Goddard
It was a surprisingly windy day when I walked from my car towards Monmouth University’s exhibit Karen Bright: Throughline and her installation Just Beachy/After Sandy. The rain was coming down sideways and it was cold. It reminded me of the weather leading up to and after Sandy. That potential for harm was in the air, like anything could happen, at nature’s whim.
Before you enter the doorway of the gallery, there are magnetic walls upon which the public has been invited to leave their stories of how Sandy affected their life, family, and home. The exhibit contains 40 years of encaustics, drawings and sculptures from Bright’s career, in addition to work reflecting on Sandy. A sound and light installation analyzes data from the storm and translates that into frequencies of color and sound. Bright made hanging drawings that reflect the colors and shapes of the data charts about the storm on the adjacent wall.
I was entranced most by Bright’s towering sculpture in the middle of the room. You can view it from the ground floor, or from above on the second floor. It seemed to be tethered and balanced just enough to stay standing. If someone leaned on it just a bit too much, it would surely all tumble down, and the two little blue houses on top would smash into pieces on the hard floor.
Bright loves to find “treasure,” as she calls it, on the beach and find ways to make it into art; in fact, she brought found objects right into the gallery. One pink tangle of wire, algae, and plastic struck me as particularly beautiful. Bright writes in her catalog, “I always think about the moment that led to the current state in which I find something, whether that moment happened millions of years ago, or from yesterday’s rain storm.”
Bright likes for the viewer to imagine all the work that went in, or all the progress that happened to make an object the way it is now. Looking at the tangle of wire, I thought, “So the waves jumbled these things together. The ocean is strong, and it made this. What does it mean that a storm made something beautiful?”
Throughline is an example of how art can be a counterpart to tragedies like Sandy. About drawing, she writes, “I think of whimsy as the counterpart to line, it is the comic relief, it is the Christmas Eve truce - it is the sunny day after the storm. We could all use a respite once in a while from the almighty battle of line.” It would be inappropriate to say that there is a bright side to every tragedy, but art does give us a chance to fix the emotional damage, at the very least.
Art is the whimsy stage that comes after the exhausting stormy battle. Now we can wonder, worry, and work to fix. We can use our imagination like Bright did to figure out how the storm stirred up our communities, and how our communities came to be the way they are now.
Karen Bright: Throughline and Just Beachy/After Sandy at the DiMattio Gallery at Monmouth University’s Rechnitz Hall is open until December 9. There will be an artist walk and talk with Bright on December 4 and December 8. Registration is encouraged. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.