EXPERIENTIAL ART at The Rockwell in Downtown Corning

Shasti O’Leary Soudant’s (real life) installation Space Invaders considers topics of surveillance and privacy with color and whimsy. Photograph by Jess Spady, courtesy of The Rockwell Museum.
by Willa Vogel, The Rockwell Museum

In recent years, the Rockwell Museum in Corning has shifted its mission and vision to explore art about the American experience. This means the museum aims to not only showcase a diversity of art and artists of the multi-faceted American experience, but to provide a deeply engaging and often surprising environment for visitors to explore new ideas and perspectives.

        This summer, The Rockwell will present two regional, contemporary female artists as part of a special exhibition lineup that extends beyond the walls of the museum’s home base located at 111 Cedar Street in Corning.


A virtual exhibit about tangible ideas

        Buffalo-based artist Shasti O’Leary Soudant will take over Fallbrook Park (152 East Tioga Avenue, Corning) from July to October with an augmented reality sculpture exhibition and interactive game titled Burden of Conquest.

        Visitors to Burden of Conquest will find a series of 11 stations scattered throughout the park. Each station features a unique QR code that, when scanned, offers a portal to a different “city” that can be explored and interacted with through a visitor’s mobile device (smart phone or tablet). As visitors approach the city’s walls, the structure virtually materializes around them. Traveling around the city’s walls unlocks a prize – a digital file to that city’s sculptural “heart” that can be created on a 3D printer as a small memento of their conquest.

        Visitors without their own device will be able to check out mobile devices during regular library hours through a partnership with Corning’s Southeast Steuben County Library, located just across the street from Fallbrook Park. The library’s Maker Space is a resource for 3D printing, free to the community.

        Burden of Conquest is designed to be “played” alone or in groups by children and adults. The exhibit involves real-world exploration, philosophical contemplation and questions the ideologies of ownership, capitalism and colonialism.

        Soudant is a multidisciplinary artist, sculptor, designer and writer whose colorful public art is inspired by philosophy, politics and scientific and mathematical concepts. Community collaboration is at the core of her work; she explores hidden systems, power dynamics, human relationships, balance and hegemony, all while inviting playful engagement and interaction.

        “What I really like and enjoy doing is to think and talk about things that are serious, that have gravity, but in ways that are inviting,” Soudant said. “Starting off silly and reminding ourselves we can laugh, even about serious things, allows to engage us in conversations that are difficult to have.”

        When The Rockwell Executive Director Brian Lee Whisenhunt visited Soudant’s studio a couple years ago, she had just completed a sculptural commission for the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo. Whisenhunt was struck by her ability to bring an idea to a community in an “exuberant, colorful and lively way.”

        “Shasti’s work is truly infused with joy,” Whisenhunt said. “Her commitment to experiential art and community collaboration aligns so beautifully with The Rockwell’s vision.”


From art to the stars

        From June 16 to October 15, Ithaca-based artist Yen Ospina will take over the Kids Rockwell Art Lab at 36 East Market Street with her exhibition, We are Made of Star Stuff.

        Ospina is a self-taught Colombian-American artist who creates in multiple mediums and scales – from digital prints to community murals. Her work centers on themes of power, mysticism and visibility. She utilizes a core color palette that makes her diverse body of work instantly recognizable. Ospina honed her signature style over the course of 2020 during a period of deep introspection. She creates her art to inspire inquiry and expand the viewer’s subconscious assumptions of what feminine, queer and diverse power looks like.

        At the Art Lab, Ospina will create large-scale drawings to brighten up the maker space’s walls and ignite the imaginations of young art explorers and their families. To complement the Rockwell Museum’s 2023 theme, “Heroes,” these artworks will encourage visitors of all ages to think about how we are the heroes of caring for our planet, each other and ourselves.

        Each summer, The Rockwell seeks out local and regional artists to transform the Art Lab. The artists are encouraged to create work that reflects their artistic practice and invites visitors to be involved and interact. “We’re thrilled to have Yen as this year’s featured artist because her work is accessible for so many audiences,” said Interpretation and Public Engagement Educator Kate Swanson. “It stimulates the imagination for any and every age group, and helps the viewer to see the world around us in new ways.” 

        Yen’s artworks and the accompanying activities and make-and-take projects will demonstrate visitors’ connections to the universe and ask people to think about their place in it. Over the summer, drop-in visitors will find photo-ops and prop-making stations, 2-D and 3-D art projects and play stations for young art explorers. The Art Lab is designed for youth ages 4 through 12, but all ages are invited to explore this special summer exhibition.

        Learn more about both of these special exhibitions as well as view a calendar of events and programs this summer at rockwellmuseum.org. Kids and teens ages 17 and under are always free at The Rockwell. Discounts are available for local residents, AAA members, ages 55 and over and college students.


More at The Rockwell

Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice
On view June 3 – September 4, 2023

William H. Johnson (1901 – 1970) painted his Fighters for Freedom series in the mid-1940s as a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers and performers as well as international heads of state working to bring peace to the world. He celebrated their accomplishments even as he acknowledged the realities of racism, violence and oppression they faced and overcame.

Some of his Johnson’s Fighters – Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Marian Anderson and Mahatma Gandhi – are familiar historical figures. Others are less well-known individuals whose determination and sacrifice have been eclipsed over time. Johnson elevates their lives, offering historical insights and fresh perspectives. Through their stories he suggests that the pursuit of freedom is an ongoing, interconnected struggle, with moments of both triumph and tragedy, and he invites viewers to reflect on their own struggles for justice today. In Fighters for Freedom, Johnson reminds us that individual achievement and commitment to social justice are at the heart of the American story.

This exhibit is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Art Bridges, Faye and Robert Davidson and the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation.

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