With the image of a concrete slab splattered with blood projected above her head, alumna artist Gwynneth VanLaven ‘04 quietly waits to confront her audience’s assumptions.
VanLaven’s installation, ‘Just to be Safe,’ which will be on display in the CFA Lobby from Oct. 10 to Nov. 11, explores the concept of binary thinking in society. The installation attempts to converge seemingly disparate concepts, such as fragility and resilience, to highlight their unexpectedly complementary nature. In the CFA Round Room following the installation’s opening, VanLaven lectured a motley group of current students, faculty and alumni about the motifs she explores in her work and why these themes are relevant to society as a whole.
Addressing the disquieting image behind her, VanLaven immediately delves into the traumatic formative event that precipitated a change in the trajectory of her career. She summarizes the occurrence and its impact in her Artist Statement:
“Six years ago, a car jumped the barrier from the parking lot onto the sidewalk, hitting and pinning me against the wall of a bank. As boundary between car and body collided, I was left in its painful wake.”
In the aftermath of her accident, VanLaven plumbed that boundary, investigating the binary of wellness and illness.
“I begin to wonder what wellness looks like in a body in pain and medical flux,” VanLaven said.
VanLaven humorously explores this idea through the study of medical advertisements. As she projects various ads onto the screen behind her, VanLaven wryly notes the commonality: all depict patients with their arms flung out, expressions of pure bliss on their faces. This idealized image of wellness is one that VanLaven combats through her work, which attempts to convey that wellness can exist under a variety of circumstances.
The accident left VanLaven with limited mobility and chronic pain, so the stigma against the disabled became a source of inspiration.
“I sometimes feel like vulnerability incarnate,” VanLaven observes.