by Valerie Valentine
"Soon there won't be anyone who isn't a criminal, or a victim of crime." -Henry Rollins
If you’re not the criminally-inclined, then you’ve likely experienced some kind of crime against your person. Identity theft is the fastest rising crime in the nation; or maybe you’ve had your car or home robbed. Physical assault is a scarier crime, and can traumatize your mind for years to come. So, how to deal with the inevitable rage, distrust and emotional pain that can linger long after the incident? The artists in the current Paul Whitney Larson Gallery exhibit, Art of Recovery, use visual art to exorcise their fears.
In a series of embroidery on felt, Emily C. Johnson displays
women in sexy hot pants and red high heels, variously smashing fists or stilettos
into the face of an attacker. The message is clear: you can be all-woman and
still be able to defend yourself. The creations can serve as inspiration for
female victims of violence. But further down the line, the pieces become chilling
as Johnson touches on the darker side of post-traumatic reactions.
In her “Fresh” series, the artist shows some serious
butt-kicking action. The embroidery on vintage hankies evokes typical girlie
kinds of past-times; delicate fabric and precise needlework tip a nod to the
feminine. The images, however, are graphically violent and even intimidating.
Johnson has outlined figures of a woman brandishing a baseball bat over the
crumpled body of a man, or chopping an axe into someone’s back; this is
not your grandma’s cross-stitch. However, by being able to represent these
intense scenarios through art, the artist is (ideally) spared the need to act
on the impulses in real life.
Chad Maender, Char Coal and Rhonda Barnes give people a glimpse
of the healing process through paint. Maender’s abstract acrylics incorporate
the scrambled chaos of dark emotions of crime victims; the splatters feel violent
and bloody. Coal uses brilliant watercolors to make a series in orange, pink
and green, the brightness exhibiting a “victory over darkness.”
The sheer number of Barnes’s pieces suggests a rigorous dedication to
art therapy healing.
Partners for Violence Prevention shows its tower constructed
by violence survivors, human service providers, and other advocates that contains
400 small boxes for peace. The small gold boxes are exhibited in collage with
personal symbols of hope, from LifeSavers candy taped to one, to a miniature
3-D seascape inside another. The multitude of proverbs, images and advice will
hopefully help victims come to terms with their lives, and find a safe haven
to restore a sense of security.
The Art of Recovery runs through May 14. Paul Whitney
Larson Gallery, 2017 Buford Ave. Room 42 (University of Minnesota, St. Paul
Student Center), St. Paul. 612-625-0214.