Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sonja Thomsen: Minimalistic Visions of Nature

When I saw Sonja Thomsen's installation in the Wriston Gallery, I was immediately excited. I practically screamed at my friends that "THESE PICTURES WERE TAKEN IN ICELAND!" I am a self-proclaimed Icelandophile, so in my eyes, nexus could be nothing but beautiful and awe-inspiring. But there were way more levels (literally) to this exhibition than just beautiful and ethereal photographs of Iceland. As I watched people walk around the room, a particular group of people caught my attention. They were trying hard to see details on photographs that were placed on shelves high up on the wall, and failing. They looked frustrated and confused, and even stopped to question me as to why the image was placed so high up on the wall. At that point I didn't really care, I just told them that the pictures were taken in Iceland and that's why the should be excited.

But Sonja's talk today made me realize why this group of viewers was so disoriented. They were not used to this style of exhibiting art, and were not understanding their role as a part of the exhibition itself. This is a characteristic that is commonly used in minimalism: the idea that reflective surfaces and constant physical interaction with the piece cause the viewer to be part of the piece. Large, square blocks become anthropomorphic when the viewer can see their reflection. The work is incomplete without the reflection of the viewer. This dynamic is seen in the reflective surfaces of the paper that Sonja grouped with her photographs. It becomes apparent in the very physical way that the piece changes depending on time of day and light. It becomes physical because the viewer literally has to move their body in order to get a view of the photographs.

Sonja also complicates this dynamic by intertwining a close relationship with nature and science into her minimalistic works, such as with this Petroleum Installation below:

The piece is reflective and clearly has a minimalist composition, and yet there is a deeper message as the connotations and negative associations with petroleum rise to the surface. Although Thomsen's interest with science and nature within an artistic context is certainly not new to art, she has her own very consistent style, specifically a cool blue, gray, sometimes pink, but always calming color scheme. Her passion for science comes through clearly in her work but we are not bogged down by scientific concepts. Instead we are lifted up on to clouds of calming pastel colors and spectrums of light.

The other cool thing about Sonja is that she's just cool. Easy to talk to, nice, knowledgable, opininated, and approachable. I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one lunch with her and she talked about her artistic journey. She gave me this bit of advice: Stay involved, stay active, and continue to be adventurous, and you WILL find opportunities to do the thing that you love. (She speaks from experience- Sonja did not even major in art in college!)

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