Guest reviewer Abigail Minor, a Hollins University junior, returns for a second round today (her first review here) with an assessment of the The Roanoke Valley Reef, on display in Roanoke College’s Olin Gallery until March 1st. —MikeA
The Roanoke Valley Reef
By Abigail Minor
The Roanoke Valley Coral Reef, on view at Roanoke College, simulates the experience of being immersed underwater in a colorful reef. Rippling mounds of psychedelic yarn, piled on freestanding pedestals throughout the darkened room, form a visual buffet on which the viewer is invited to slowly gorge. A soft symphony of underwater sounds plays in the background.
There is no denying the vast amount of work that was put into the creation and layout of the project. Its aim – to inspire viewers to examine ecological problems – is admirable. As a cohesive whole, however, the visual effect is somewhat uneven. The multitude of color and texture in each piece is at times overwhelming. Individual stitches lose their beauty while singular pieces end up lost in the patch-worked mass, and the formal structures can feel repetitive. It might be a testament to the success of a shared project. But is yarn a serious enough substance to convey the urgency of the environmental issues?
Nevertheless, certain pieces stand apart. Bleaching, an intricately composed reef comprised of whites, ivories, buttery yellows, and truffle browns, forms a ghostly silhouette amid the exhibition’s raging acid trip of color. The albino-like beauty of this aquatic structure conveys a quiet tension, a feeling of mourning. The accompanying wall text reveals that harmful chemicals bleach the coral and cause its death. Had more pieces possessed the same balance of artistic insight and ecological information, the overall message would have been much better supported.
Though exhausting to the eye, the exhibition’s innovative and whimsical premise makes a case for more art that unites community members — in this case, stitch by stitch, in an effort to aid the natural world. For this, Roanoke College should be commended.