The raw reality of human and nature interdependency was encapsulated in the allegorical mixed media pieces of duo John Holmgren and Nick Conbere, entitled, “River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River Dams.”
During the collection’s grand opening at Shippensburg University’s Huber Art Center Kauffman Gallery on Jan. 26, attendees witnessed the chilling collision of past and present nature through disjointed imagery. Guests were left with room to interpret how these captured images may further change in years to come.
Following the half an hour of open viewing, Holmgren stepped forward and spoke to those in attendance about where the idea for the collaborative project stemmed from and the meaning behind the pieces.
Growing up in Lakewood, Washington, Holmgren was able to witness firsthand how we, as constantly adapting and advancing human beings, have had and continue to have a vast effect on the environment. While river dams are known to produce benefits to society such as flood control, a stable water supply and hydroelectric power, Holmgren encourages individuals pay attention to the negative effects that dams have on habitats and the environment as a whole.
As the number of dams built across the world increases, the natural habitat of species such as salmon and egrets are disturbed. This places an unnatural dam structure into the environment that egrets and salmon are familiar with, and has led to large numbers of salmon being blocked from traveling back upstream.
For egrets, which rely on healthy rivers for food and shelter, they can no longer find ample prey because of the reduced number of migratory fish.
The consideration of how dams have influenced a wide spectrum of effects on the environment, specifically the Columbia River, radiated brightly throughout the entire collection of Holmgren and Conbere’s work.
The pieces from the art collection varied in form from sketches, photographs, paintings and screen prints. But viewers were most drawn to the few unique pieces that added another layer to photography by placing a cutout or drawing overtop of the original picture. These specific pieces not only morphed two forms of art by layering, but also combined past and present. The pieces displayed what individual parts of the Columbia River look like now versus how that same area likely looked before the dam was built.
“It is still an ongoing process,” Holgren said about the collection. He and Conbere plan on blogging every river mile of the Columbia before calling the collection complete. Currently, the two have completed 146 of the Columbia’s 1,243 river miles.
Holmgren and Conbere’s mixed media collection, “River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River Dams,” combined education and awareness with entertaining and stimulating art that all individuals could effortlessly enjoy.
Above all else, the duo hopes “That people take away from our work an awareness of environmental and social issues,” Holmgren said.
Access to the Huber Art Center Kauffman Gallery is free and open to the public during gallery hours. “River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River Dams” will be available for viewing until Feb. 23.