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Exhibit uses art, ag to engage with issues

Art by Cecilia Ramon, whose work is featured in "Free Range Trials" at the Free Range Film Barn in Wrenshall. Submitted photo

In "Free Range Trials," currently exhibited in a Wrenshall heritage barn, Cecilia Ramon and Kathy McTavish have mounted a deep meditation on how art engages with issues of our time.

In her contribution, Ramon recently returned from sustained time at Schumacher College in the United Kingdom, ambitiously maps global ocean movements.

"I'm exploring how water moves — both its molecular structure and the major currents swirling out from Antarctica and circulating around the globe," she explained.

She's drawn these currents in meticulous detail on paper, which she then projects on a screen. In front of the barn, you'll can walk these major global swirls on a path she's laid out (also viewable on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=jOVvXDI0KbY).

Ramon imagines her work as learning from our environment and simultaneously acting to protect it. She makes her own inks, from walnuts among other organic sources. It's her practice to explore how to make art that doesn't harm.

"I work on thin, plant-based paper," she said. "I try to be as light as possible in my use of resources. And I'm trying to get away from the idea that things have to last forever."

The drawings are very portable and can be redrawn if necessary.

"I like to think of artwork as organism, not artifact," she said.

McTavish's work is staged in the basement of the barn. Those who've seen her spectacular exhibit, "Chance Encounters," at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Tweed Gallery through Oct. 19, will remember the dazzling array of computers that generate random moving compositions of colorful rectangular and round shapes, each one unique but with elements in common as colors and dynamics shift.

In her "Free Range" exhibit, nine computer monitors and five projectors generate sound as well as images.

"Each machine is singing little buffers of past sound that I've collected," McTavish explained. "Very small and lightweight source sounds. They never repeat. I call it a warm, gray scale. They are like bird songs, high-pitched." Some are like heartbeats.

Unlike the Tweed's siloed Sax Gallery, always challenging to program, the barn's low and sagging-ceiling basement provides a confined space where the colors and sounds ricochet off surfaces, enhancing the viewers' wonderment.

"This room is a gift to me," McTavish said. "I love liminal threshold spaces and hope to explore them further."

The two artists worked together with Dugan for more than a week setting up the show. I found both to be powerfully reflective about their work, as well as curious how others experience it.

In curating the exhibit, and with support from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, Annie Dugan hopes to show the connection between visual arts and agriculture. Both are experimental, she explained on the day I visited the set-up. On their organic farm, she and her husband, Janaki, are developing hedgerows to foster a diversity of plants, insects and bird life.

"I think people see art and environment as separate," she said. "But both require observation and flexibility." And collaboration. Thus, the pairing of two artists with complementary skills and aesthetics.

In both farming and curating, Dugan's aim is to use the power of artmaking to grapple with issues of our times.

I encourage readers to visit the exhibit. Ramon and McTavish will be on site daily, 2-5 p.m. through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3. With the artists present, you can ask questions, share your musings and figure out for yourselves what you think about the intersections of art, environment and experimentation.

The barn's address is Free Range Film Barn, 909 County 4, Wrenshall.

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