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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Exhibit sparks controversy

By Ian Anderson
Staff Writer

Friday, November 21, 2003

Fifth-year art apprentice Tony Clune's recent show in the Dittmann Center tackled themes of religion and American nationalism in a bold and fearless manner. The exhibit, which ran through this Sunday, consisted of six carefully constructed pieces.

The show was a contemplative display of questions and challenges to the American government. It revealed the artist's opinion that the government attempts to justify its actions through religion, and was also a commentary on Americans' obsession with the modern conveniences of life.

Concerning his controversial subject matter, Clune said, "The world is not black and white, it’s not good or bad. It’s complex and hard to understand, and you have to make a good try in doing that – I think that’s what Jesus would want us to do.”

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a row of 32 gasoline-filled, gallon-sized bottles with Eucharist host wafers and strike-anywhere matches on the lids, paving a path leading up to a 12-foot cross on which an American flag was painted – a very striking and thought provoking image in itself.

Around the centerpiece along the walls were four “chapels.” These four independent pieces were far simpler than the centerpiece. One of the chapels featured the echoes of a lawnmower cutting grass in the summer, creating a strange sense of suburban security that made me half expect to see someone walk by the window pushing a lawnmower.

Another chapel contained a mounted television showing a looped clip of a highway rapidly passing by, which incorporated a new medium into Clune's exhibit.

"I’m drawn to the moving image, because we as a culture are very good at watching television," Clune said. “We have an aptitude for disseminating information. I’m interested in creating these simple images. It’s important to me to have video, because it’s the medium of our time. I’m also just fascinated with the possibility of the infinite reproduction of an image."

Clune’s choice of the highway connects with the jugs of gasoline on the floor, which were meant to represent the amount of gasoline a Hummer could hold in one tank. "I just wanted to see that much gasoline in one place," he said.

The gasoline also served as a commentary on Americans' unnecessary use of large trucks and lack of carpooling. "This is more open-ended, these small choices that are seemingly innocent. But they add up to global and political circumstances," Clune said.

Next to the television was another chapel with a peephole revealing a looped tape of the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, lifting weights in constant repetition. "This piece was a bit of comic relief," Clune admitted.

The last chapel had three lines from a Saul Williams poem, which Clune received permission to use from Williams himself: "Freedom at the cost of prayer, freedom at the cost of awareness, freedom at the cost of responsibility."

These comments on America and religion are strong and hit close to home, making Clune's controversial. In spite of his stance, however, Clune didn't want to send the wrong impression. "I love America," he said. "It’s a fantastic place to live. And I’m thankful for the tools of thought that St. Olaf has provided for me – they have allowed me to think on this level."

"I may ruffle a few feathers along the way," Clune continued, "but I just want to open a few doors. The idea of Jesus dying on the cross for us is one of the most beautiful things -- living as Jesus did is also a beautiful idea. It’s all mixed up in war and politics and it ought not be that way. War is ugly; for people who don’t get that, I wonder what they think about, because it seems like the most obvious thing for me.”

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