Life Out of Balance at Emily Davis Gallery, University of Akron

Life Out Of Balance, Installation view, Courtesy of Emily Davis Gallery

The world around us is changing at an unprecedented rate as the climate changes, shifting weather patterns and affecting our natural environments as well as our man-made ones. Artists and curators have been taking on the subject of these issues, often pointing out the problems, yet not often giving viewers hope for a brighter future. In Life Out of Balance, on view at the University of Akron’s Emily Davis gallery March 15 – April 19, gallery director Arnold Tunstall has pulled together a diverse body of work that both raises concerns, but also provides an optimistic view that we can find a new balance with nature. The artists in Life Out of Balance include Maria Uhase, Meryl Engler, Lori Kella, Benjamin Lambert, Michael Loderstedt, Eva Polzer, Ron Shelton and Corrie Slawson. Their works span several mediums and styles, including photography, painting, and sculpture. Their styles cross and include realism, abstraction, and surrealism.

Works of Michael Loderstedt, Installation View, Courtesy of Emily Davis Gallery

The intent of the exhibition is to inspire reflection, dialogue, and action regarding the relationship between people and the environment. “Humans can feel more alive by being integrated with the rest of the natural world,” states Lara D. Roketenetz, Field Station Director at The University of Akron Field Station, a collaborator on the exhibition. “We are not living to our full potential, or allowing nature to be its full potential, when we consider ourselves as separate from it.” With this in mind, Tunstall pulled together works that explore concepts like interconnectedness, sustainability, and the impact of human activities on the environment.

Lori Kella, Eroding Shoreline (Calm Before the Storm), 2021

The photographs of Michael Loderstedt and Lori Kella explore conditions of the natural world through realistic representations. Loderstedt’s photographs, like Broken, and Ringed, capture the beauty of the world around us. That sense of wonder is soon shattered when the perspective shifts from a gorgeous image to reminders of melting ice caps resulting in sea level changes, or that birds are perched in dead trees. Kella similarly brings to mind erosion with images like Eroding Shorelines. She does so using carefully constructed miniature scenery that at first glance, may be mistaken for an actual scene of a mankind warding off the washing away of the natural shore. Each of these artists construct a reality that is both beautiful and a poignant counter to our perception of the world, as influenced by various factors, including our senses, experiences, beliefs, and cultural background. In essence, reality is not something fixed or objective but is instead shaped by our individual and collective interpretations. What may be seen as beautiful can still be dangerous and cause harm to ourselves and the environment.

Cori Slawson, Arctic Ice Holds 10% of the World’s Fresh Water … , 2021

Picking up on the theme of melting ice caps and coastal erosion is Corrie Slawson’s painting, Arctic Ice… Slawson deftly painted an image that expresses the plight of the polar bear in its ever decreasing and warming habitat. The bear on the left gazes out at the viewer as if begging for assistance. Its companion to the right is seen with cracked and broken skin, much like the broken glaciers in the background. Adding to this narrative of a broken biome is a fractured rainbow across the sky. The segmentation throughout the composition is unsettling, driving home the dire situation that even one area of the globe with an environmental change can have global implications.

Maria Uhase, Shelter, 2023

Tunstall states that through the works in the exhibition, “we discover notes of decay and imbalance as well as the transcendence and resilience of life. Despite this imposed sickness of our world, we can also share an appreciation for the healing, adaptability and conservation efforts that can help us achieve a healthier future for all living things.” Blurring the line between fiction and reality in her paintings, Maria Uhase focuses on surrealist interpretations of nature, speaking to adaptation and the growth that can be found in the decaying environments we are now beginning to experience. Ripe with symbolism, paintings like Shelter bring attention to a sense of disease eating away at wildlife, yet there are signs of continued life as spiderwebs and moths adorn the dead branches. In other paintings by Uhase, worms can be seen helping to break down rotting wood. In this way, she shows us that even in changing landscapes, life adapts and can be resilient.

Benjamin Lambert, I Found Your Damn Lost Salt Shaker, 2020

Sculptural works in the exhibition also play on themes of the dangers of pollution and climate change while addressing the beauty of nature, asking the viewer to appreciate the environment around us. Garbage, including plastics, increasingly build up in the ocean, causing harm to sea life and even our freshwater resources. Benjamin Lambert’s I Found Your Damn Lost Salt Shaker addresses specifically the waste that washes up on our beaches where we spend time for recreation. Plastics are a topic Ron Shelton is well versed in. He uses reclaimed plastic waste to create works like Yellow Waterfall which cascades into a pool in the center of the gallery. Having plastics mimic that act of water, Shelton reminds the viewer just how pervasive microplastics are in waterways. Yet, by reusing and reforming the material, he also shows how impactful recycling can be.

Ron Shelton, Yellow Waterfall, 2022

Each of the artists in the exhibition show us two sides of the environmental coin. The dangers and situations we are finding ourselves in, as well as the beauty of the natural world around us. They show us that it’s not too late to take in the wonder of our surroundings. Roketenetz concludes, “If we are to have hope for solving the complex environmental issues that are facing us today, we need to work with, rather than against, the forces of nature.” Tunstall underscores the subjective nature of human perception with Life Out of Balance and the role of art in shaping and challenging our understanding of the world. The artworks on view invite viewers to reconsider their understanding of the world and their place within it.

Life out of Balance

March 13 – April 19th

Emily Davis Gallery, Akron University.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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