Tour With the Artist: Christina Conklin’s Collection at USF

Alexander Gomez
Staff Writer

Artist, writer, and researcher Christina Conklin headed a tour of her most recent pieces on Feb. 12 collectively titled “Worlds in the Making: New Ecological Rituals.” Her collection, which is a part of USF’s Thacher Gallery, focuses heavily on climate change and its effects, with many of her artistic creations taking inspiration from nature. “Worlds in the Making…” is comprised of four separate pieces, the first being housed in the first floor of Kalmanovitz Hall, with the remaining located on the third floor terrace of the same building.

Conklin’s exhibit opens in the K-hall first floor atrium with “Carbon Confession,” a very tall, hollow, rectangular pillar made of cardboard. Over several months, Conklin collected all of the cardboard that she and her neighbor have used in order to construct this massive piece.

Layer upon layer of overlapping cardboard constitute the piece and add to the overall meaning, as discussed during her tour: the “Carbon Confession” allows people to reflect on their own carbon output. When people step inside the confessional and enclose themselves within its four walls, enveloped by darkness, they are able to take a few minutes to reflect without outside interference. “When you’re inside the confessional and surrounded by the cardboard, you just have no other option than to reflect on your own carbon footprint and its effect on the environment,” said sophomore Samantha Cheung.

Additionally, inside of the confessional is a “Book of Carbon” containing information about carbon and where it comes from, as well as a “Confessional Book” where people can write down any thoughts that may come to them while reflecting. Conklin also explained the purpose of the copper coins that can be found within the confessional. Each coin has been inscribed with a single word and Conklin invites people to choose a coin that resonates with them and take it to the “Infinite Vessel,” her next piece in the collection.

The “Infinite Vessel,” located in the third floor sculpture garden of K-Hall, is a large, copper bowl that has salt water inside of it and which sits atop a short pillar. The title of the piece comes from the ocean itself since Conklin views the ocean as an “Infinite Vessel.” When it rains, the water level within the copper bowl will increase, and with the current state of the drought, the water will lessen and evaporate, similar to what happens to our own oceans.

Conklin is fascinated by this constant flow and fluidity, as she lives in Half Moon Bay where she is exposed to the sea and its tide on a daily basis. Conklin invites people to take their copper coins from the “Carbon Confession” and drop them into the copper bowl. Over time, the copper will begin to oxidize, changing from brown to green and producing copper fluoride in the process. Conklin expressed her fascination with the blend of these natural and toxic elements.

Large banners of tattered blue and white plastic hang above the entrance to the terrace. The pieces of tarp, shower curtains, and clothing are what Conklin calls “Prayer Flags.” The streamers made of plastic draw their inspiration from Tibetan prayer flags, where each one has a prayer written on it before it’s hung up. When the wind blows, the prayers are said to go out into the world. Conklin wants people to write their own words of wisdom on pieces of the same material located on a table beneath the flags, and then string them up to add to the growing collection of banners . “The hope is that you will embed it with some intention of your own that you want to go out into the world,” said Conklin.

Underneath the flags is a circular white cushion where people are encouraged to sit down for a few minutes and relax, using the markers laid out to inscribe any thoughts they may have onto the cushion itself. In this way, the piece becomes a public piece of art, as opposed to just the artist’s. “I really like how interactive the artist has made her pieces,” said sophomore Sherry Feng, “It’s something many artists rarely do and seeing it be a part of this collection is really refreshing.”

Her final piece, known as “Mappamundi,” is a simple, white cloth circle

with a black outline of USF’s Hilltop and main campus scribbled across it, adorned with overlapping stones lined atop it. Students are encouraged by the artist to take the stones and rearrange them into different patterns of their choosing. Conklin wants this to become something that the public can help her finish, as she has it listed as “Work in Progress” in her description.

All of this ties into the main theme of these pieces: in order for people to truly understand climate change, they must be able to see it firsthand and take part in alleviating it before any future progress can be made. Similarly, Conklin encourages the public to take part in creating, changing, and adding to her interactive collection. “The first step is awareness,” said Conklin, “Take a good, hard look at yourself and your output. The more self-aware you become, the better you do.”

“Worlds in the Making: New Ecological Rituals” will be on exhibit from Feb. 8, 2016 to Dec. 11, 2016 and is accessible to the public weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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