New York and Nashville-based artist, educator, and Vanderbilt alumna Barbara Yontz fascinates viewers with her use of sound, video, and such natural materials as wool and hair in No Going Back, currently on view through June 29 in the Space 204 gallery housed in the Ingram Studio Art Center on the Vanderbilt campus.
“These sculptural installations, some with sound or video, navigate the intra-relationships among materiality, emotion, and the body,” said Yontz, who is particularly interested in relationships—“the messy encounter between at least two relationships and the boundaries that separate and dissolve one from/or into another.” Such works as Touching From the Inside Out, You are There, Like My Skin, The Places Where We Meet, Mending Broken Hearts, and Reading Bodies reflect that interest.
Materials function in her work as “both metaphor and real substance with the memory of functional use value,” she explained. “Skin, hair, wool, and cocoons are all bodily materials that were once an essential aspect of adaptation for life. Now these materials are reused and made into artworks, separated from their original function but unable to shake the attachment.”
The centerpiece of the exhibit is The Star Womb Project: Monad to Nomad, an eight-foot, dome-shaped structure made of handmade wool felt, hog gut, and wood with five-channel sound, representing not only a womb or cave but also a nurturing listening space. Yontz developed this installation in response to the astrophysicist Daniel Wolf Savin’s research into the physics behind the formation of the first star. Originating from the “birth of a star” metaphor, the Star Womb imagines the universe as a maternal body from which the first star was born. “This piece,” she noted, “creates a situation where a time and place that humans could never really experience—space 13 billion years ago—can be embodied and imagined.”
Natural materials obviously hold an allure for Yontz, and she utilizes them in ways that highlight our frailty, curiosity, imagination, and fears. “In the end it’s an experiment with ways to move beyond individual boundaries, of negotiating social practices, politics, space, touch, and limits,” she said. “The work exists as evidence of my desire and active engagement with another.”
Yontz, associate professor of art at Saint Thomas Aquinas College in New York, earned the master of arts degree in art history from Vanderbilt in 1999. She currently lives in Manhattan and keeps a studio in Nashville. Her sculptural installations and performance art have appeared in exhibits at the Phoenix Gallery, Chelsea; the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Tennessee Arts Commission, Nashville, Tennessee; the Jose Marti National Library, Havana, Cuba; the Boston Museum School; and the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, New Jersey.
Space 204 is in the Ingram Studio Art Center at 25th Avenue South and Garland Avenue. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All exhibits are free and open to the public. For more information, call the department of art at 343.7241, or visit http://www.vanderbilt.edu/arts. ~Fay