Kohl Gallery hosts Mapping Meaning panel to celebrate new exhibit

By Megan Loock
Elm Staff Writer

Gallery Director and Curator for Kohl Gallery and Guest Lecturer in Studio Art Tara Gladden hosted “Mapping Meaning: Praxis for Ecological Futures,” on Wednesday, Oct. 20 in Tawes Theatre in Daniel Z. Gibson Center for The Arts. The panel discussed the basis of the organization with founding director of Mapping Meaning Krista Caballero, and Mapping Meaning contributors Carmina Sánchez-del-Valle and Karina Aguilera Skvirsky.

This program was supported by the Hedgelawn Foundation, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Washington College Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

According to their website, “Mapping Meaning brings together artists, scientists, and scholars to explore new modes of acting in the face of social and ecological emergency. Inspired by a photograph from 1918 depicting an all-female survey crew, Mapping Meaning supports the creative work and scholarship of those working at edges and ecotones, who are pushing against traditional disciplinary boundaries.”

Along with this photograph, Caballero was interested in responding to “The Three Ecologies,” an interdisciplinary book by French psychotherapist, philosopher, semiologist, activist, and screenwriter Félix Guattari which claims that ecology should be viewed as mental and social as well as environmental.

“I had no idea if it would be of interest to anyone,” Caballero said, talking about her initial doubts of the organization’s debut. “And I almost didn’t follow through [with creating it].”

At Mapping Meaning, “selected women come from across the Americas, representing a wide diversity of perspectives and disciplines, including: visual art, geology, American Indian studies, entomology, film, ecology, architecture, American studies, dance, creative writing, visual anthropology, geography, GIS-land surveying, ethnobotany, permaculture, business, civil & environmental engineering, and folklore,” according to their website.

“In developing the exhibition with Mapping Meaning Founding Director Krista Caballero, we decided that a panel would be a great way to both help the public better understand, and freely share the ideas and methodologies that the group is exploring and developing through their transdisciplinary work,” Gladden said.

Gladden led the panel and asked a series of questions that pertained to the organization’s history as well as membership and the types of activities Mapping Meaning led. Most of the panel grappled with how the organization defines and practices true “transdisciplinary” relationships.

The organization conducts entirely hands-on workshops with a few lectures, but works with the resources made available to them, according to Caballero. Because of this, they identify the transdisciplinary nature of the organization as a continuous practice of knowledge.

Sánchez-del-Valle identifies that a transdisciplinary space goes beyond an interdisciplinary approach to these issues where “I am willing to listen to you” and vice versa. 

“If there were a safe space, it would be Mapping Meaning,” Skvirsky said. “It’s a space where you can kinda fail, and as artists, we need to fail to figure things out.”

There were two accompanying performances at 3 p.m. Rosalind Murray presented the online Zoom performance, “hi mountain, hi water,” and Skvirsky presented “How to Build a Wall and Other Ruins,” at 6 p.m.

Skvirsky employed photographs of Incan rocks as raw building materials. Skvirsky’s live participatory performance doubled as a community action, with the audience assisting in the building of an ephemeral Incan border wall within the gallery, according to Gladden.

Callabero hopes for the future of Mapping Meaning to expand outside the American West — and the United States in general — and travel to places like Ecuador and the Americas.

“I think that alone will bring in new people, new ideas, and new unknowns,” Callabero said.

“The Encounters & Entanglements: The Art of Mapping Meaning” exhibit will be available for viewing  through Dec. 3. Students and other visitors interested in viewing it must reserve a spot via the Kohl Gallery website.

Photo by Izze Rios

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