BALANCING CONTROL AND CHAOS: TARYN MCMAHON EXPLORES THE ECOLOGY OF BOURBON IN INTERSTRUCT@DISTILLERY DISTRICT
“There is a delicate balance between control and chaos,” Ohio-based printmaker and mixed-media artist Taryn McMahon says of the work she has been producing within the past few years.
What started as a focus on printmaking merged with the artist’s love for sculpture to inspire a mix of the two mediums, resulting in dynamic, large-scale installations that thrive in intricate architectural spaces. Still, she wouldn’t consider any category to sufficiently capture what she is doing.
An installation of the hybrid-style that Taryn McMahon has developed is being featured at the old James Pepper Distillery as part of the final segment of LAL’s INTERSTRUCT, a three-part series of site-specific projects. By introducing artwork into non-art spaces – such as the historic Pope Villa, the revitalized North Limestone community, and now Lexington’s distillery district – INTERSTRUCT aims to investigate the sites’ architecture, history, location, and context. Mahon’s installation, entitled Raised from the Seeds Sown in Spring, collaborates with the architecture of the Pepper Distillery and is inspired by the history of natural resources used to make Kentucky bourbon.
McMahon’s recent work imagines “a future ecology in which the natural and artificial become intertwined and conflated in the face of unprecedented change”. Utilizing the advantages of silkscreen printing (as well as other methods, like monotyping), McMahon layers 17th-18th century botanical engravings with bright, original prints. She incorporates images of flowers and patterned botanicals as a way to highlight the complicated construction of one’s idea of nature. These organic, natural illustrations are paired with contrasting backgrounds and recurring geometric themes to create installations that both respond to the architecture of their site and determine how the audience perceives and navigates through the space.
McMahon’s interest in creating installation-based artworks was initially influenced by a love of sculpture. At the time, she was producing both prints and sculptures in her studio, but they represented different bodies of work. Eventually, she began to see elements combine within those different forms until they melded into one.
“I started to cut up the prints and make bigger prints and treat them sculpturally,” she says.
The exploration of biology and ecology in McMahon’s work evolved from a realization that prints have and will always shape our view of the natural world. To better understand the connection between ecology as subject matter and printmaking as the principal medium, McMahon delved into historical botanical engravings and considered how printmakers addressed ecology in the past.
Later, a curiosity about the Language of Flowers would encourage McMahon’s art. She found herself particularly interested in the flower of sculpture, the Hoya Carnosa, whose blooms have a rather structured, three-dimensional appearance. Since flowers are typically feminized and sculpture is historically considered a masculine pursuit, this contrast immediately served as an inspiration to the artist and saw the introduction of geometric shapes into her work.
“I was trying to question and confuse associations of nature/man, and femininity/masculinity,” she says.
Now, McMahon incorporates geometric themes to oppose organic images, such as the Hoya Carnosa, but also to question how ecology will develop in the future and to reference the architecture of the site.
Would McMahon’s artworks be primarily considered printmaking? Installations? She doesn’t consider her work to definitely fit into any category, which “used to worry [her]”, but her passion for her art has absolved this fear.
“It has been a process of slowly building rather than a quick start,” she says of her art career.
She received great advice from a mentor in graduate school at the University of Iowa that still resonates with her today: “follow your work”. McMahon aims to “do whatever it takes” and to always take risks for and in her art – from blindly moving across the country multiple times to experimenting with new methods and refusing to be satisfied with doing the same thing. Because of this, she continues to offer audiences fascinating and unique commentary on the natural world around us.
Taryn McMahon is currently living and creating art in Kent, Ohio. She teaches printmaking and foundations at Kent State University and is widely recognized for her works of art.
Don’t forget to join us in experiencing McMahon’s INTERSTRUCT installation at the James Pepper Distillery. The exhibition opens this Friday, November 21, from 5-8 p.m.
“We all have a relationship with the mountains…some appreciate them just for natural beauty, while others it’s intertwined into their livelihood.”
These are the words of Jason Sheridan Brown, kinetic sculpture and installation artist from Knoxville, Tennessee. After living in Tennessee for 12 years, this University of Tennessee associate professor of art was inspired by the culture of the coalfields to create Lost Mountain, one of two INTERSTRUCT projects in the third and final installment of the three-part series.
INTERSTRUCT launched on Oct. 3 with a site-specific installation at the historic Pope Villa by international artist collective Expanded Draught, with the second installment opening Nov. 7 in the North Limestone neighborhood with projects by Rebecca Hamlin Green and Cedar Nordbye and Juan Rojo.
“I’ve always been engaged with land as a subject,” says Brown.
Situated within the historic weatherworn Pepper Distillery, Lost Mountain is constructed from a collection of steel frameworks, wood panels, mirrors, and roughly 40 buckets of raw Kentucky coal.
To give the piece authenticity, Brown used Google Earth to map the contours of the mountain ranges from Perry County to Lexington. Using this line as a template, Brown cut the image of a mountain range out of mirrors and wood panels. These mountain mirrors make it so that the viewers see their own faces in the mountains, sparking a physical and mental reflection upon one's personal relationship with and responsibility to the land.
“I want the work to engage a variety of audiences by existing somewhere in the middle ground,” Brown hints that his work may be better received from an eco-activist’s standpoint, but mainly aims to provide viewers with a medium through which to project their personal history with coal.
Brown was inspired to narrow the focus of his work to Perry County after reading Erik Reece’s Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness. This collection of journals chronicles the environmental demolition of one Appalachian mountain through mountaintop removal mining from October 2003 through November 2004.
Brown’s Lost Mountain speaks a similar dialogue about the battle between cultural identity and environmental harm, a dispute many Kentuckians feel a deep kinship to.
“This issue is super complicated. People are highly passionate about it because so many are dependent upon coal for their jobs,” Brown says.
Kentucky is a prime illustration of a disconnect that often occurs between urban and rural culture. Brown has a goal of one day displaying these coal-inspired works away from the bigger cities, in hopes to start different conversations.
“In a perfect situation, I’d do this in an abandoned power-plant to make it an even stronger connection to the real thing, but here [Pepper Distillery] you definitely get a sense of the past. It certainly has a post-industrial feel,” Brown says.
To further integrate the impact of coal on the installation, the room will be flooded with bright contractors lights. This will illuminate the piece from within, and leave it glowing from the night outside, literally and symbolically confronting the viewer at all times.
Come out to experience the Lost Mountain during the Gallery Hop from 5pm to 8pm this Friday, November 21st.
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All Lexington Art League programs are made possible through the generous support of LexArts. LexArts allocation of $50,000 represents the largest single donation to the operations of the Lexington Art League.
The Kentucky Arts Council, a state arts agency, provides operating support to the Lexington Art League with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by Lexington Parks & Recreation.