LEWISBURG - "Influx," an exhibition of sculptural works by artist Joe Meiser, is on display until March 29 at the Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University. An opening reception and artist lecture will be held at 7 p.m. Friday.
Meiser said he wanted the name "Influx" to contain two meanings.
"I usually choose exhibition titles that have double meanings because I'm foregrounding the kind of paradox and tension that I explore in my artwork," Meiser said. "The most successful works I've made have had an element of tension or contradiction. I think human existence is inherently confusing, and the process of figuring things out and moving toward clarity is invigorating. So, the name 'Influx' is supposed to refer to both a massive input of information [influx], and something that is changing and evolving over time [in flux]."
Artist Joe Meiser puts the finishing touches on his sculpture, “Hominid and Simian Souls,” which is on display until March 29 at Bucknell University’s Samek Art Gallery, Lewisburg.
As a younger artist, Meiser placed greater emphasis on generating completely original ideas, but has since moved away from what he calls "rigid notions of authorship." "I used to feel that I had to come up with my own ideas from scratch in order for the ideas to be worthwhile," Meiser said. "Over time I've realized that, like it or not, we're all influenced by other people and by our surroundings in general, so nobody is as original as they may like to think. So we may as well borrow good ideas from others when they're presented.
"Nowadays, I take good ideas when I find them and adapt them to speak about the issues I most care about. Rather than trying to be original, I just focus on making my work clearly exemplify my own idiosyncratic view of the world. Surprisingly, this process of borrowing and adapting usually leads to works that are quite original in the end!"
Meiser's idiosyncratic point of view is expressed by every work in his upcoming exhibition. Individually, the pieces that make up "Influx" seem entirely original and without precedent. Taken together, the works communicate a unique set of artistic preoccupations and a signature aesthetic.
Taking just one aspect of Meiser's art, consider the titles he gives to his works. The names are interesting, to say the least. Take, for instance, "Stephen Hawking as Elijah, Ascending to Heaven on a Chariot of Fire," which is exactly what its name suggests. The exhibition also includes "The Two Deaths of Socrates," "Hominid and Simian Souls" and "Johnny5" - a series of digital prints depicting the sentient robot Johnny 5 from the "Short Circuit" films in a variety of domestic settings: making tea, looking at himself in the bathroom mirror, and so on.
When asked if the works that make up "Influx" are united by any particular theme, Meiser had this to say: "This exhibition investigates the conflicting narratives about mortality that are offered by science, philosophy and religion. It also looks at how contemporary technologies have changed the way that we think about death. In some ways, the problem of mortality is the same as it was 200,000 years ago, but in other ways, because of the particulars of our contemporary situation, mortality is an entirely different problem. This collection of works is a means for me to better understand what it means to be a mortal human in the year 2012."
Meiser said his preoccupation with human mortality stems from his desire to better understand the human condition through his work.
"I'm particularly intrigued by problems that all humans face, and death is chief among these," Meiser said. "Death is one of the scariest and surest aspects of life. It sometimes seems grim to people that I'm working with the problem of mortality, but I think that an awareness of death and the brevity of life can help remind a person of the importance of making the most of each day. I know that my time on this planet is limited and I want to squeeze every precious drop out of my existence before I go."
Meiser, who grew up in Northern Kentucky, has been an assistant professor of art at Bucknell since 2009. He oversees the art department's sculpture curriculum.
Meiser said his teaching directly informs his art.
"Through teaching I've had to closely examine my own assumptions about artmaking, and this process of clarification has been very useful to me," Meiser said. "It's made it easier for me to speak about my artistic intentions."
As an undergraduate at Northern Kentucky University, Meiser thought he would be a painter until he took a sculpture course with a professor who introduced him to the merits of the medium. "I realized early on that the process of making sculpture is fundamentally different from working two-dimensionally," Meiser said. "Drawing and painting are usually about creating illusions, but sculpture exists in real space and is tangible. I've always found it empowering to create objects. The process of conceiving an idea and then realizing it in real physical form has increased my sense of my own capacity to shape my surroundings."
Discussing his working method, Meiser said it's more a matter of discipline than inspiration.
"I work long hours in the studio. Over the past several months, it's been typical to spend 12 hours a day, six days a week, working on my art. A lot of people think that artists just hang out waiting for inspiration to strike like a thunderbolt. I've done my share of waiting, but usually to no avail. To make progress as an artist I have to DO something. I'm a big fan of the Jack London quote: 'You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.' "
Or, in Meiser's case, a mallet and chisel.