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Four sisters present ‘Family Tree’ exhibition

Four sisters present ‘Family Tree’ exhibition

10/25/2022 

Through their individual perceptions of nature, four sisters scattered around the U.S. and in New Zealand explore the historical, environmental and philosophical significance of trees in an exhibition titled “Family Tree,” now open at SUNY Cortland’s Dowd Gallery.

The multimedia display includes supporting programs in both in-person and virtual format through Friday, Dec. 2. An opening reception and exhibition tour will be held in the gallery from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The gallery is in the Dowd Fine Arts Center on the corner of Prospect Terrace and Graham Avenue in Cortland. 

The exhibition is free and open to the public, as are the opening reception and all exhibition-related events. These  include a quartet of artist’s talks, documentary screenings and presentations that contribute additional perspectives on the exhibit.

The unique group exhibition — combining art, painting and poetry — brings together the works of four sisters, elin o’Hara slavick of Irvine, California; Madeleine Slavick of Wairarapa, New Zealand; Sarah Slavick of Boston, Massachusetts, and Susanne Slavick of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Sarah Slavick's 2021 oil on canvas, "Elegy to the Underground 4," is shown. Above left is by her sister, elin o’Hara slavick, "A-Bombed Weeping Willow Tree in Hiroshima, 2019," a partially solarized silver gelatin print.

The sisters explain their exhibit in an artist’s statement: “In its beauty and bounty, nature is often regarded as benign and apolitical. “We do not expect a tree to assume an editorial stance or embody ideology. The conceptual, analytical and sensual intersect in ‘Family Tree’ with works that probe the multitude of relations within and between trees and humans. Branching out to, and from, the world, the artists address a variety of concerns.”

Based on her experiences in Japan, elin o’Hara slavick, artist-in-residence at the University of California, Irvine, presents photographic works that bear witness to the ongoing aftermath of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the nuclear power disaster in Fukushima.

Madeleine Slavick describes  her photographs as revealing “dichotomies and their collapses in our experience of nature in environments both rural and urban — they decry the marginalization of trees.”

Sarah Slavick’s paintings explore the underground life of trees in an elegiac series that conveys both grief and hope for what is threatened and for what might survive through possible strategies that trees offer for all species on the planet. She serves on the College of Art and Design faculty at Lesley University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Susanne Slavick, a university professor of art emerita at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, hand paints trees derived from the “tree of life” carpet designs overprinted on scenes of environmental destruction and depredation.

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Susanne Slavick's 202 work, "Tree of Life: Yellowstone," is made of gouache on archival inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper with sources including Raymond Gehman, National Geographic, Yellowstone National Park and Kurdish Tree of Life carpet design.

The sisters began sharing their interwoven careers as artists and writers with a 2021 gallery exhibition at the Aratoi Museum of Art & History in Masterton, New Zealand, titled “Family Tree Whakapapa.” After a stop in Auckland’s Wallace Arts Centre, the multimedia display arrived on Monday, Oct. 24, at SUNY Cortland’s Dowd Gallery.

The exhibition offers perspectives both unsettling and soothing as nature increasingly reflects salient issues of these times.

“As curators, painters, photographers and writers, all have incorporated images of trees in social, political and environmental conditions,” said Jaroslava Prihodova, Dowd Gallery director. “Trees that stand as refuge and livelihood, consumed and consuming, under assault and triumphant, as historical record and as the harbinger of things to come.”

The exhibition focuses on the related but distinct ways these scattered siblings engage with the arboreal imagination, wrote Kimberly Lamm, associate professor in the Program of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University.

“Tangled into their photographs, paintings, life histories and political commitments, the trees in their artwork are intricate lines, bold shapes, diffuse traces and stylized patterns,” Lamm wrote. “Defying the ease with which the genealogical and botanical connect in the figure of the family tree, the Slavick sisters make it a thing of wonder: rooted in the ground and multiplying in our imaginations, family trees are botany and biology written with longing, hope, history and loss.”

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Madeleine Slavick's 2022 archival inkjet print diptych "Parking Lot Conversation." 

During a planned poetry reading on Thursday, Dec. 1, SUNY Cortland faculty members Heather Bartlett, Howard Lindh and a collective will recite poetry by John Ashbery, Margaret Atwood, Ross Gay, Joy Harjo, Terence Hayes, Pablo Neruda, Ross Gay or Valencia Robin and others as well as two poems created and selected by the Slavick sisters.

Visit the Dowd Gallery website and social media for detailed information about the programs and link invitations to “Family Tree” virtual events, which will include:

  • Guided tour: Three of the four Slavick artists — elin o’Hara slavick, Sarah Slavick and Susanne Slavick — will give a guided tour during the opening reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26. They will share insights on the exhibition’s conceptual premise, their individual pieces and their relationship to each other.
  • Virtual artists’ talk: Audiences also may ask questions about the artists’ creative practice and inspiration during a virtual event at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2.
  • First Friday: Friday, Nov. 4. The guided tour of the exhibition has been organized by Cortland Arts Connect to take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4. The event will be both live and virtual on Facebook, Instagram and the Dowd Gallery
  • Documentary film: Patagonia Films’ 2019 film, “Treeline/ The Secret Life of Trees,” will be screened at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10. 
  • Interdisciplinary lecture, education: Jeremy Jimenez, Ph.D., an associate professor in SUNY Cortland’s Foundation and Social Advocacy Department, will discuss: “Trees Can’t Sequester Mercury; Why Climate Is the Wrong Focus” at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17.
  • Documentary Film: A compilation of shorts, called “Ingrain in Art II,” will be shown at 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 21.
  • Interdisciplinary lecture, environment/culture: Tucker Marder and Isla Hansen, the respective director and co-programmers of the Folly Tree Arboretum in East Hampton, N.Y., will speak about their project as a cultural archive of trees dedicated to environmental storytelling at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29. Hansen is an assistant professor of art at the School of Art, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh; and Marder is an interdisciplinary artist and founder of the Folly Tree Arboretum.
  • Poetry reading: SUNY Cortland faculty members will discuss the arbor-related poetry of literary figures including Bertolt Brecht and Adrienne Rich at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1.
  • First Friday: A guided tour of the exhibition has been organized by Cortland Arts Connect to take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2. The event will be both live and virtual on Facebook, Instagram and the Dowd Gallery

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with extended hours until 7 p.m. on Thursdays, and by appointment. Visit the Dowd Gallery website for details about exhibiting artists, other programs, safety protocols and online booking. For more information, or to arrange group tours, contact gallery Interim Director Jaroslava Prihodova at 607-753-4216.

“Family Tree” is supported by the Art and Art History Department, Art Exhibition Association and a Cortland Auxiliary Services grant.


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