Two projectors are shining videos on one wall of the Sordoni Art Gallery, located on the Wilkes University campus. One depicts a woman with a wet, glistening face gagging and choking on a piece of raw chicken; the other is a meditative portrayal of a piece of gold foil being gently tossed up and down by the breath of a man laying down.
The first is a piece called “The Sacrifice of Self” by Mirandah Akeley, and the second is “Breath Study 8 (Worth Its Weight)” by Corbett Fogue. These and other works by the two artists from the same respective series are featured as part of the Emerging Artists Biennial at the gallery. The exhibit will be ongoing through July 15.
While the juxtaposition of the two artists’ work is jarring, the common theme of loss unites them, according to the gallery’s director and curator of the exhibit, Heather Sincavage. For this reason, she named the collaborative exhibit “This Too Shall Pass.”
“I think it’s one of the responsibilities of a university to try new things, and provide opportunities for emerging artists,” Sincavage said in reference to the biennial. “I think it should be something that can challenge viewers, something that you wouldn’t typically see in a commercial gallery.”
Sincavage wanted to get the two artists in a show together since she became familiar with their work, she said. Akeley is one of her former students from Maine, and she discovered Fogue’s work through Instagram.
The exhibit opened with a reception on June 16, and featured a live performance of Fogue’s work entitled “Breath Study 12 (Requiem).”
Fogue’s “Breath Study” series was inspired by the death of his father of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a condition that affects the elasticity of the lungs.
“It became less about him specifically. It’s always about him for me, but it became more about the act of breathing in general,” Fogue said of the series.
“Its an experience that everybody shares, and it’s an experience that is so important to us that our bodies do it for us.”
While his father was in the hospital, Fogue collected mementos — documents, photographs, video, audio — and these things became part of his work.
One was an audio file of his father’s last breath. Fogue took the visualizer of the audio file, stretched it out and placed it over four music staffs. He placed musical notes where the peaks and valleys landed.
This experimental score eventually became the musical accompaniment in “Breath Study 12.”
“It turned out, once I had someone play it for me, to be this very calming experience … that was very surprising. I expected it to be very dissonant, I expected it to be kind of all over the place but it really wasn’t,” Fogue said.
The piece is played live on piano while a video of Fogue’s father’s last conscious sunrise plays. The video was taken by Fogue on the morning his father went into a coma.
The video is slowed down for the performance. The sun never fully rises, and instead slowly recedes as the video plays backwards. The performance lasts 22 minutes.
Fogue’s half of the exhibit features the visualizer from his father’s last breath, one in the form of an experimental musical score and one in gold leaf on an 18 percent gray latex background, called “Breath Study 15 (Nothing Gold Can Stay).”
While Fogue’s work follows the loss of his father, Akeley’s follows abuse from her mother.
Her parents divorced when she was nine, and her mother became addicted to prescription medication. She became physically and emotionally abusive.
“I withstood severe physical and emotional pain, so naturally I formed a very gruesome perspective of my body and I searched desperately for an escape, an explanation and some kind of relief,” Akeley said.
Akeley said of “The Sacrifice of Self” that it “is an ode to the notion of giving oneself, sacrificing the human ego, to the vulnerability of being in the present moment.”
Akeley also discussed her work called “The Spit Glass Series,” a video from which is also featured in the gallery, saying it “further investigates the power of repulsion and desensitization.” The video shows Akeley spitting into a cup and then drinking it.
“The series was inspired by the theory that we are traumatized by that which is generated inside us, which circles back to the body, trauma and how we make sense of it all,” she said.
Akeley’s work seems to have an uncanny ability to create a response from her audience; at the exhibit’s reception, one woman exclaimed, “disgusting!” after viewing “The Sacrifice of Self” — during the quiet live performance of Fogue’s work — and several others could be seen averting their eyes.
“The audience’s response to my work is integral to its content,” Akeley explained, adding that she feels that there is a lot of art that people look at, but don’t see. She stated that she is in tune with the human body because 0f her experiences, and that inspired the work.
“I believe my work should be a full-body experience… . I want my audience to see my work but I also want them to be able to feel my work turn their stomachs … because in those moments they are present and that is what the work is about,” she said.
The Sordoni Art Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon until 4:30 p.m., and is located at 150 S. River St., Wilkes-Barre.
Reach Toni Pennello at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter at @TLArts.