Sticks in the mind

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Sticks in the Mind opens this weekend and runs through February 20 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Carole Fisher finds it a bit maddening to witness society’s collective short-term memory, in particular when we fail to learn the mistakes of past environmental atrocities.

Fisher, the daughter of a union iron worker, has a strong streak of activism in her, and describes herself as a “campfire girl gone bad.” It’s a combination that has led her to stubbornly tell the same story over and over again – that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

Fisher, who is on staff at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, is the creator of “Sticks in the Mind,” a multimedia installation the brings the voices and stories of people affected by the spill over the past two decades together in one space. The gallery has been transformed into a sort of chapel or memorial hall, where viewers can read, listen and watch footage from the initial spill, as well as interviews from three different trips Fisher made to Alaska.

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Of course, in the wake of the recent BP oil spill, the story is more relevant than ever. But what Fisher offers us is a long view, an opportunity to see how the real damage happens over not in the weeks after the spill, but over the course of years and decades. Industries die out, people lose their jobs, and what was a booming community becomes a wasteland.

Fisher says her work is in part inspired by her love of nature, but nature is scarce in her exhibition. A collection of black podiums of all different sizes could be interpreted as a forest, but if so, it’s been clear cut. In fact the only real nature present are dead branches. All “Y” shaped, the branches ask the question “why” while simultaneously appearing to be in search of clean water. Or perhaps they are sling shots, flinging the truth or our actions back in our faces.

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At the periphery of the gallery Fisher has transformed the walls into chalkboards, inviting students to comment on the work. It’s a risky move, and sure enough some comments come with a sting attached. One asks “where is the art?” Another points out that many of the materials Fisher is using in her art are in fact oil-based.

Fisher says she understands how people may see the social issue side of her work first, but at heart she is working with language, and stories. She is, in a sense, curating the voices of this story, selecting which to words to emphasize, which words to let fall on the cutting room floor.

“You can’t tell a story like this with a painting,” she says. “I love language. This is about the stories we tell, and how we choose to tell them.”

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“Sticks in the Mind” runs through February 20 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with an opening tonight at 6pm.

All images by Peter Hunner, courtesy of MCAD.

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