Art Gallery’s “Field Companion” Offers a Refreshing Break From a Troubling World

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Unlike previous works that greeted visitors with vibrant colors and overwhelming amounts of artwork, Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib’s presentation is simple and bare. In fact, most of their exhibit, “Field Companion” is hidden behind large walls installed for this specific exhibit. 

The exhibit’s format in and of itself invites viewers to take a relaxing break from their busy, stressful lives. It takes away the overwhelming need to find somewhere to start and focuses your attention into one place at a time.

“This year I thought we should think about themes that are more reflective, given the trauma [we’ve] all been through and work with artists that are creating works that are more personal,” said Mary Salvante, gallery exhibitions program director at Rowan University’s art gallery.

Wall projections in “Field Companion” exhibit. – Photo courtesy of Chelsea Valcourt

However, as unassuming as it may seem, there is a lot to glean from taking time out of your day to enjoy the two, roughly 20-minute films that make up this exhibition. 

The first of these films, “Moon Viewing,” is an older work, originally displayed on a 150-foot-wide building face within a constructed viewing garden in Philadelphia. 

“The landscape within the film is this neglected patch of land right there in the middle of the city,” said Suib. “We’ve turned into a large-scale garden based on the Japanese form of karesansui, which [translated] is a ‘dry landscape,’ also known as a rock garden.”

This film was the collaborative product of Nadia Hironaka, Matthew Suib and Eugene Lew among other actors, musicians and activists. It is the only part of the exhibit that can be seen from the entrance. It consists of three couches, three sets of headphones, and a screen. After taking your seat and putting on the headphones, rhythmic, soothing chimes invite you into a state of relaxation. 

These stories are isolated and include different actors, activists and artists within the collaborators’ community. In one clip, a farmer looks down to find a vibrant green plant growing out of the otherwise lifeless, dull stones below him. The camera then climbs up the side of his blue jumpsuit to reveal his shiny, bald head. Almost imperceptibly, his head begins to transform into a beautiful, detailed moon. 

In another, the dramatic stand-off between a black cat whose eyes reflect the moon and an unassuming bird is displayed. The music, zoom and color composition create a suspenseful and increasingly enthralling atmosphere. 

“I thought, ‘well these artists– I love what they do, let me reach out’, ” Salvate said. “And they were totally on board with doing a show here; then they said they wanted to do a new piece [so] I said, ‘even better.’”

Philadelphia-based artists Hironaka and Suib gained a lot of their inspiration for their newest work, “Field Companion,” from South Jersey’s own Pine Barrens. After constructing a 12-cubic-foot terrarium within their artist studio, the collaborators filmed its ecosystem. 

In addition to their stunning shots that seem to display nature that spans for miles — due to the terrarium’s mirrored walls — voiceovers and abstract creatures come together to tell the story of interconnectivity and the importance of community. 

After walking through a narrow hall, guests are met with a large, barren room. Projectors display vibrant, serene nature graphics on the walls. In the middle of the room sits a screen which displays the featured short film. 

The footage used for this scene is almost fantastical. It demonstrates the extreme beauty in nature and the hidden gems you can witness if you just look hard enough. Artistic renderings of various animals including slugs, frogs and racoons guide the viewer through the experience and enhance the artistic experience.  

“Fly Head” as part of the featured short film within “Field Companion.” – Photo via Chelsea Valcourt

In some instances, these creatures become one; a raccoon has human hands while the human has a fly’s head. It reminds us that we are not as dissimilar from the creatures around us as we may assume, and that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves, species or community. 

It also features moments of pure entertainment, such as a particularly fun scene in which some woodland creatures have a miniature dance party. It provides a nice break from the big, existential — albeit important — themes the film presents. 

In its ending line, “Field Companion” the ladybug character asks, “Who is the protagonist here?” That question never receives an answer, as the video begins from the beginning again. 

“The joke is that when you watch a film, most of us are drawn to narratives. There is a beginning, middle and end format and we have a protagonist and an antagonist,” Hironaka said. “So. if we put this all into a framework, what is this all about? And there’s no answer. And that’s the point. There is no protagonist. There is no antagonist. The answer is not going to be set in stone as one line. The answer is to experience and really contemplate and think about how you live in this world.”

Both “Field Companion” and “Moon Viewing” will be on exhibit in the Rowan Art Gallery from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays until Oct. 30. More information can be found at www.rowan.edu/artgallery.

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