homepage logo

Installation art exhibit reflects artist’s family history of social justice

By Staff | Oct 18, 2019

On left, sophomore painting major Elizabeth Wirts talks with graphic design professor Kristin Kainey, during the exhibit reception on Oct. 7. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Shepherd University’s Phaze 2 Gallery opened their fall exhibit, “Zac Benson: Installation and Sculpture” on Oct. 7, with a reception and artist discussion.

The reclaimed material exhibition, which is free and open to the public, was a resource used by many of the university’s art teachers and students to learn about installation artwork. According to gallery director Evan Boggess, the gallery tries to put in more installation exhibits, because they are less common in the area.

“We like to bring in installation artists for the space. I thought Zac’s voice needed to be heard – he hinges a lot of things on his faith, and uses that as a spring board to talk about a lot of things that are important. He does it pretty elegantly and succinctly – it’s a direct presentation.” Boggess said, before mentioning one reason art galleries avoid installation art exhibits. “They’re difficult to put up, because they use the space in a different way. But Zac and his wife had planned out the installation ahead of time, and installed it within a day-and-a-half.”

One challenging aspect of installing the exhibit was a piece titled “The Decision is Yours,” featuring three light switches descending from black rectangular shades in the ceiling. The “decision” was up to the viewer, on whether or not to turn on each light, showing the words “Faith,” “Hope” and “Love.”

Graphic design professor Kristin Kainey said she gave extra credit to students for attending the exhibit reception.

From left, graphic design sophomore Sarah Flesher and graphic design junior Kathlyn Jones talk with installation artist Zac Benson, during the reception for his exhibit at Phaze 2 Gallery on Oct. 7. Tabitha Johnston

“I made it a point for my class to come to see the show,” Kainey said. “It’s important for them to see work from other than the faculty. It gives them something to think about.”

Although sophomore painting major Elizabeth Wirts came to the show for the extra credit, she said she regularly visits the gallery to get new ideas.

“This isn’t typically the kind of work I would create – classical paintings are what I enjoy creating. But I like a mix of everything,” Wirts said, before pointing out her favorite piece. “This one definitely makes me think. It’s called ‘With You to the End,’ but the material of these life vests doesn’t look very water resistant.”

Benson, who is an assistant professor of studio art at Cedarville University, said viewers need to come to the exhibit with an open mind.

“At first glance, you might think the artist is trying to get a reaction, trying to ruffle feathers, but if you know me, that is far from the truth,” Benson said, before showing a photo from his grandfather’s church of an integrated Vacation Bible School, one year after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Graphic design professor Kristin Kainey pulls a lightbulb cord to see the exhibit piece, “The Decision is Yours,” during the reception on Oct. 7. Tabitha Johnston

According to Benson, his grandfather was fired from his church for integrating the VBS, which he used as a teaching tool for his children and grandchildren.

“I was raised to be an advocate for social issues. I come from a large family of teachers, preachers and artists – I was taught to love God, love family and love others,” Benson said, mentioning the inspiration behind his artwork. “From the beginning, I wanted to connect with individuals outside of the art building. I learned I needed to put every fiber of my being into my artwork – I needed to put forth as much mental as physical work.”