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Technology & the Natural World

In March 2016, four local artists were featured in the George Waters Gallery located in the Campus Center of Elmira College. Ron Farris worked with digital prints. Elizabeth McMahon painted acrylic on canvas and Bob Ievers painted oil on panels. The fourth artist, Connie Zehr, is used to displaying her artwork in solo exhibitions; img_20160311_093357however, she agreed the other artists artwork and hers played well off each other. Although she is used to displaying her artwork on the floor, taking up an entire gallery space, at Elmira College Connie created her installations on top of a platform, resembling a topographical map–small mounds of colorful sand with flat tops, whose colors are reflected in the thin glass positioned through the flat tops.

Zehr’s installations create a unique visual experience. Zehr has to install her art exactly where it is being displayed in a gallery, museum, or college campus–curators cannot move her work once she creates it. In addition, Zehr cannot sell such work. Robert Irwin, another installation artist, coins this art, “Made in place.” Since glass is made of sand, Zehr combines two natural elements of the world. Using cylinders to make sure the sand falls in place and the technology of the Corning Museum of Glass to create the pieces of glass, Zehr creates a three-dimensional art that is visually appealing.

First, Zehr places a plastic cylinder on the surface that will display the work. After pouring sand into it, she slowly lifts the cylinder and the sand shifts out, creating a perfect mount. Using a flat top, Zehr slowly levels the top of the mound to create what resembles a plateau. It normally resembles a topographical map on the floor. img_20160310_173432250_hdrHowever, because her artwork was displayed on a platform this time, a few people viewed her pieces as birthday cakes. Zehr makes her own glass sculptures using a process called flamework, at the Corning Museum of Glass.

Zehr resided in southern California for thirty years and moved to Horseheads, New York, five years ago to be closer to her family. In California, there is a much finer sand to be found whether on the beach, or in the desert. Much of the red sand Zehr used in her work comes from the Valley of Fire in Nevada. When she moved East, certain colors of natural sand were harder to come by. img_20160310_173451836She switched her natural colors to those of bright neon colors, available at Michael’s Craft Store. In one of her pieces shown here, she used white and black sand contrastingly. The glass she makes and installed reflects the colors of the sand from different angles, heightening the contrast.

Since her move to upstate New York, Zehr has been working with other forms of technology, including metal print and prisms. Using a printing service that laminates a paper print onto aluminum, Zehr folds tin foil into different shapes, then unfolds it, and lays it flat on a scanner. The sends these paper prints to Bay Photo Printing, and they send back a piece of aluminum. The electrolysis process fuses the image into the metal instead of just printing onto it. Lastly, Zehr places a small piece of crystal on top of these prints displayed on platforms. These crystals add a three-dimensional layer to her print, and they reflect and distort the image further.

Zehr has installed her artwork internationally, in Taiwan; Pasadena and Los Angeles, California; Oregon; Buffalo, Corning and Ithaca, New York.

Stefanie Hotaling

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