by ellis jake solie
Following is a preview of Carol Emmons’ upcoming exhibition at the Allen Priebe Gallery, UW-Oshkosh. Because of how the dates of the exhibition and our print schedule for fsm. coincide,artist Emmons and curator Leslie Walfish graciously allowed ellis jake solie an opportunity to talkwith them prior to installation. The images for this article were taken after solie’s interview withEmmons, and yet still before the finished install. –editor
Exhibition Preview: Carol Emmons’ Miasma III: Pestilence and Providence Allen Priebe Gallery, UW-Oshkosh November 9th –December 1st , 2023
Anticipation was not only palpable walking through the gallery doors, but it was a multiplying presence whispering and huddled around overflowing boxes, installation fragments, and an abundance of charts strewn about the floor. I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak of Carol Emmons’ upcoming show Miasma III: Pestilence and Providence before its reception November 9th.
Scott Farmer, an assistant of Carol’s since January of 1990, was busily setting up while Carol was gracious enough to give me a tour of the work. I will tell you only of what I know for sure, and wait as best as I can, to see it complete on opening night. What I know is Carol’s generosity as an artist to her audience is remarkable, each detail is meticulously considered, and surprises will be inevitable. This exhibition will force us to confront the question of whether or not there’s been any social/ spiritual/scientific evolution, (what is science if we can’t democratically agree on provable truth?) evolution in terms of our collective progression from the conception of miasma to now. Twenty-five hundred-ish years ago people were writing about miasma- what’s different now? Yes, this show is about Covid-19 and its effects, but to say that that’s all it’s about, is the same as saying the only reason any one would go to the library is to use the public restroom.
Artistic generosity can run the gamut between extremes. Some artists have a 2010 Oprah mentality, while others insist on an 1843 Dickensian modality (pre-ghosts). Emmons gives us enough to take another step, then gives us more and we move a few new steps, then a little more, and after who knows how long we realize we are in a place unknown with markers both familiar and strange. This is the sweet spot. The richness lies in her ability to lead us through the questions without forcing conclusion upon us. Her generosity is an engagement into the conversation. She asks readers to participate in a dialogue, without offering them easy or simple answers to complex questions like: Is there fault? Must there be sacrifice? With all we know, why did this happen? Could we stop this from happening again? Do we actually have any power in the course of our trajectory? Where is tradition? Where is kindness?
It’s correct to assume that if you notice something, even seemingly inconsequential, it’s absolutely intentional. Emmons’ attention to detail is inspiring. So much so that, each area of the space becomes a character in the drama. When we first walk in we encounter the most familiar, the personal, and here is where we engage on the level of memory. The “homey” quality in the first third of the gallery will bring you right back to your great aunt Edna’s sitting room with uncanny precision. And at the same time, not. While Edna may have needlepoint works stating HOME SWEET HOME on the walls, in Emmons’ version there are contemplative paragraphs of the miasma and viruses adorning the walls. The next division is a portal; the space that intercedes with medicine and science to take us from our personal comfort to the cosmos. We again question security but now with the added layer of a sterilized modernity. Two facing desks, separated by an austere wall, each topped with a meticulously crafted, chained book containing excerpts from Hildegard von Bingen’s Causae et Curae of 1151–1158 and containing playfully created viruses within guide us to the final third of the gallery–the universe. This is where time sits as a nodding off dinner guest, filled with rich food and head occasionally bobbing as they’re present for a comment then snoring the next. This part of the show has the feeling that time still exists, it’s just nowhere near as important as it was in the other areas because everything becomes muddled, connected, and the pseudoscience sillies from our ancestors become as recent as the morning news program. Carol Emmons is our guide; it’s her vision enabling us to travel from the extremely specific to the grand universe without getting whiplash
I want to say it’s the doilies that make me think she has all the time in the world to sit down and talk to us about these questions, but I think that’s just part of the visual bounty. This bounty invites us in to not only contemplate these themes but to take our time with them. There are common securities that hold our hands as we meet existential enigmas and push us past our comfort zones when we become cognizant of our dependence on them. Everyday objects become novel in Miasma III. The objects themselves evoke curiosity, but it’s also their treatment and presentation that help us to see them in a new context.
Leslie Walfish, the Gallery Director, spoke of how valuable it is to have an artist create work for the specific space. “This show is so timely. We are lucky to have Carol here.” Emmons’ has exhibited her work all around the country and the world. As viewers, we are incredibly fortunate to have such relevant and insightful work as accessible as a drive to Oshkosh. Miasma III: Pestilence and Providence runs from November 9th through December 1st in the Allen Priebe Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Carol Emmons will be giving her artist talk on November 9th at 5:00 pm and I encourage you all to attend. This show will be one of those that sticks with you and is absolutely worth braving the “night air” to see.
Exhibition schedule: November 9th –December 1st , 2023 Artist talk: November 9th 5–6 pm Reception: November 9th 6–7:30 pm
ellis jake solie is an interdisciplinary artist. She lives in Neenah and teaches at UWGB. You can find her work at: