The art of navigating through life

(03-26-2012)

Sabbaticals allow professors to conduct research, further their education, or author books and papers. In the spirit of these endeavors, Dana Provence built a boat. Although it doesn't float, this unique vessel conveys a profound statement about the human condition.

The centerpiece of Provence's recent sabbatical exhibit, Buoy, was a boat he fabricated from an old school bus. He chose the bus as an iconic symbol of the optimism and quest for knowledge present in childhood.

A metaphor for the human journey through life, the vessel appeared to drift amidst buoys representing five values Provence believes we are made to pursue: relationships, beauty, spirituality, joy, and justice. He drew these ideas from Simply Christian by N.T. Wright.

"Our lives should be full of enchantment, rediscovery, and being in the moment," Provence said. "However, if we aren't careful, we can end up settling for something less, or 'shadows' of these pursuits." The shadows are, respectively: having our own way, sentiment, introspection, pleasure, and vengeance.

As an art professor and sculptor, Provence felt it important to use his fall sabbatical to produce a show of substance that would be worthy of traveling to other galleries.

In a January artist's lecture prior to the exhibit opening, Provence described his creative process. Reflecting on the five values, he hit upon the boat and navigation metaphor after reading a secondary definition of buoy: to encourage or uplift.

"That tied right into rediscovery and reenchantment," he said, adding that he's always felt a connection to water, and his dad had always owned boats. He decided to create a modern boat after considering the wealth of designs offered by maritime history.

His first challenge was to locate a bus he could repurpose. The South Conejos School District was delighted to donate one, as long as they could retain the engine.

Although Provence has often used a variety of media in his sculpture - metal, glass, neon - this project presented the challenge of incorporating new materials and technology. The motorized buoys emitted light and ocean sounds, and an original video was displayed on the boat. He was aided on this front by fellow faculty.

George Sellman, assistant professor of mathematics/ computer science, introduced Provence to electroluminescent lighting and Arduino technology, which synchronized the lights, audio, and video. Dr. Matt Nehring, professor of physics, consulted on the design of the buoys' mechanical components and lent testing equipment from the robotics program. "The collegiality was impressive," Provence said.

More about Buoy.

More about the ASC Art Department.

By Julie Waechter