Bulletin News

New Dowd Exhibit Explores Sacred Space


The Dowd Gallery Monday became a temple for sacred spaces that celebrate the sublime as well as those that memorialize human horror.

“Reverence,” a multi-media exhibition by two artists, Ben Altman and Robert Knight, opened on Aug.  28 and will run through Oct. 13. The dual exhibit features photographs, participatory installations and projected audio-visual pieces that explore places of worship and memory. These range from depictions of tiny, store-front mosques and soaring, gothic churches to stark mass gravesites and death camps transformed into tourist attractions.

Altman’s work is primarily image-based, although the Dowd exhibit also includes a performance piece featuring a documentary of the artist digging a what appears to be a site for a mass grave in his backyard and a projection of corpses on the gallery floor. His half of the exhibit includes black and white photographs of sites where killings, torture and other human atrocities occurred as well as color images of tourists capturing these images on their cell phones.

“I am fascinated by the turning points of modern history and how they have formed our world,” Altman writes in a statement on his website. “ Many such events were violent on massive scales; I mourn, memorialize, respond to, and reclaim these intractable collective traumas by recording performances at my home and by visiting sites of atrocity. I explore the roles of perpetrator, victim, observer, and bystander and I photograph tourists, signage, architecture and landscaping.

“Although these methods arise in part from my personal and family history as an immigrant to the United States and as the grandson of Jewish immigrants to the United Kingdom, I think most people can find their own connections to violent disruption. In my work, I hope that reverence is not only a statement about the past but also links to questions about our present and future.”

Knight’s work includes film, photography, sound recordings and other analog media. He is interested in religious transitions and the fluidity attached to specific buildings and locations in around the world. In Dowd, his exhibit includes “Three Faiths,” a neon light sculpture combining the symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that invites visitors to view it from authentic prayer rugs and church pews. His display features images of sacred spaces with ghostly worshipers and a Bible-thick accordion foldout of images of all mosques between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Syracuse, N.Y.

“The presence of structures used for ritual gatherings has been one of the universal features of human communities throughout history,” Knight writes on his website. “As centuries of migrations and wars have brought about an ebb and flow of people of various religious affiliations, sacred spaces have often been repurposed to reflect these shifting demographics despite what might seem to be vast differences in dogma and creed. For this reason, many of these gathering spaces are among the oldest extant buildings in our cities and towns today.

“While the U.S. today is a country of rising secularism, it is hard to read the news without recognizing the importance of religion in relationship to our contemporary geopolitical landscape. My work attempts to address aspects of the conflict between secularism and religiosity and the feared displacement of the latter in contemporary society.” 

Dowd Gallery events related to “Reverence” include:

  • Opening reception, Aug. 31 from 5-6:30 p.m.
  • Artist’s talk by Robert Knight, Sept. 12 at 5 p.m.
  • Artist’s talk by Ben Altman, Sep. 18 at 5 p.m.

The Dowd Gallery is located in SUNY Cortland’s Dowd Fine Arts Center, Room 106, corner of Graham Avenue and Prospect Terrace, Cortland, N.Y.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment.

All Dowd Gallery exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public. For group tours, contact Jaroslava Prihodova at 607-753-4216.

For more information or additional images, please contact Jaroslava Prihodova, Interim gallery director or Bryan Thomas, Assistant director at 607-753-4216.