Written by Kyle Cohlmia, curator of the UCO Melton Gallery
Stacey Holloway, artist and Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, visited UCO’s campus last week to install her sculptures for the Melton Gallery’s current exhibit “Flight of the Elephant,” a project spearheaded by UCO Design Department Chair, Amy Johnson.
The story of “Flight of the Elephant,” created by Johnson and Sam Ladwig and illustrated by Jime Wimmer, Adam Coe and Semin Park, narrates the migration of a creative and determined elephant, Amelia. Ladwig, who worked with Holloway at the Herron School of Art & Design, knew she would be a perfect fit to produce works directly inspired by their story.
When Holloway arrived to the Melton Gallery, she hopped out of her van and cheerfully pulled out her electric drill, which she subsequently did not put down for the rest of the day. Her polished and meticulous technique for creating sculptural work was apparent as she began to un-drill a large wooden crate system that she built by herself to safely transport her work from Birmingham to UCO. As I watched Holloway drill together eight-foot tall stilts, hang a flying elephant from the ceiling and piece together a miniature scene of an iron-cast herd, I saw Amelia’s story come to life.
Prior to Holloway’s arrival, I asked her a few questions in order to get a better sense of her work. Our Q & As are below, highlighting her inspiration for this particular exhibit and work in ecology and visual storytelling.
Kyle Cohlmia: Is each installation a part of a larger story of the elephant, Amelia? Were you directly inspired by the design work from Jime Wimmer and her collaborators Adam Coe and Semin Park?
Stacey Holloway: Yes, to both of these. I love the story of Amelia that Jime created, and I really wanted to make sure that I’m illustrating the story correctly, but in three-dimensional form. The idea of flight is something that shows up in my work quite often. Flight, for me, is a representation of something that we strive for; something that we achieve.
KC: Do specific parts of these installations serve as metaphors for larger issues? If so, which parts (stilts, wings, etc.) and what do they represent?
SH: Stilts and wings have always represented the idea of growth for me. Stilts are so interesting because they are used for both entertainment and in building. I first began putting animals on stilts within my work to illustrate the idea of having to learn to walk all over again; not fearing change or having to start something new. Everyone worries about change, but usually you learn, gain or achieve something new from change.
KC: How do these installations compare to your past works (in both content and process)?
SH: I’ve often portrayed the idea of flight and narratives in my work, but I consider myself a visual storyteller, so collaborating on this project was perfect. Following Jime’s story, I am able to exhibit work that illustrates a more extensive story/idea than what I usually do. I am also extremely intrigued by interspecies friendships and often depict different animals interacting with each other. The idea of two creatures (with different physical characteristics and capabilities) using their combined attributes to make their “herd” stronger is a concept I often use.
KC: What draws you to the subject of ethology?
SH: I use animals in my work because their specific attributes can be used as metaphors of human nature. As a child, my mother and I volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center, rode horses together and our home was practically a zoo. My family and I have strong empathetic connections with animals. I had such unique childhood experiences with animals—nursing a flying squirrel back to health to helping mom train and raise a disabled cockatiel. I actually wanted to be a veterinarian as a child, but was drawn to art at an early age. It wasn’t until graduate school that I found that I could use my interest in animals to translate my ideas to my viewer.
Humans are not so different than other animals; we just have more direct ways of communicating with each other. Animals have their own methods of communication; body language, sounds and scents are used to declare disfavor, profess love, announce dominance and express pain. Just like other mammals, human growth can be intimidating and exciting, which is typical; however, we spend a great deal of effort masking this from each other.
I’m often drawn to herd animals. I’ve been particularly interested in exploring the notions of adaptability and acceptance because of my nephew’s struggle with social autism. Through my research, I have found that interspecies adoption and friendships have become common occurrences, so I often use one “outsider” herd animal and embed them into another herd, either exaggerating the anxiety and fear of the “outsider” or posing them in a way to express their desire to be accepted.
“Flight of the Elephant” will be at the Melton Gallery through Oct. 25 with an opening reception on Oct. 13 from 5:30-8:30 pm. The gallery opening precedes musical performances by the UCO Wind Symphony presenting the world premiere of an original score by Scott McAllister. Performances are at 7 p.m. 8:30 p.m. at Mitchell Hall Theatre. To reserve seats for the performances, visit www.mitchellhalltheatre.com or call the Mitchell Hall Box Office at 405-974-3375.
All donations and 50% of art sales during the exhibit directly benefit WildAid, an organization that raises awareness of the elephant poaching crisis, supports lawmakers in banning ivory sales and measurably reduces consumer demand for ivory.
The Melton Gallery is free and open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and on Fridays by appointment. For more information about the Melton Gallery, visit www.meltongallery.com.
For a complete listing of UCO College of Fine Arts and Design events and performances, please visit cfad.uco.edu