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News & Stories: 2009-10

Prepping Charis
August 27, 2009

For six weeks this summer, Mark Epler, a studio associate in the art department at Wheaton College worked in the Center Art Gallery at Calvin, preparing paintings and building crates for Charis—neighbors, strangers, family, friends—boundary crossings. This traveling exhibition, which runs from September 4 through October 10 at the Center Art Gallery, features the work of seven Asian and seven American artists, among them Calvin art professor JoAnn Van Reewuyk and film professor Daniel Garcia. Charis (Greek for "gift" or "grace") includes paintings, sculptures, assemblage, fiber constructions, installation and video projections. The many works are the artists’ response to a two-week immersion experience they shared in Indonesia in the summer of 2008, a project funded by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity. The exhibition will travel to eight U.S. venues before moving on to Asia in 2012. Epler talked about the joys and challenges of prepping for a major exhibition.

Mark Epler in a crate for CharisHow long were you in town installing the exhibit?

I came to the Grand Rapids area to work on the exhibit for 6 weeks, working from the middle of June to late July. The opportunity to come work on the Charis exhibition was the result of communication between one of our art professors here at Wheaton, David Hooker … who is one of the artists in this exhibition, and those members heading the Charis committee. I am extremely grateful for having had the chance to spend time working on such a unique exhibition with the support of some really amazing people.

What are the unusual features of the exhibit?

There are plenty of wonderfully unusual features within this exhibit, but I think the most striking for me is the nature of the exhibit's origin. It's an astounding body of work from 14 artists—most of whom are not familiar with one another—[who spent] two intensive weeks in a completely new place and culture, who then each returned home to create pieces out of and in response to their time together in Indonesia. That to me is astounding. And yet, despite the array of mediums and modes of expression, one manages to find an enchanting cohesion that is often subtle and richly layered.

Could you describe your six weeks of work?

The first part of my responsibilities for preparing the Charis exhibition was to take all the paintings that had come as rolled canvases and build stretchers for each of them. Many of these paintings had been rolled for a long enough period of time that they had to be stretched multiple times in order to obtain a taut surface, and others had to be stretched very delicately so as to prevent further paint cracking due to a thick impasto of paint application by the artist. From there, a student helper and myself made frames for each of the paintings that had been stretched, as well as some that had come stretched but unframed … All works that had arrived for the exhibition were show-ready and just needed to be organized into custom crates that allowed for protected travel. We made five new crates and had to modify a number of crates that had come with some of the pieces for a total of eight crates.

Were there any challenges to installing the exhibit?

I can't say there were any major obstacles in the process, but the sense of responsibility in what I was doing was probably the biggest challenge for me. It's one thing to be handling your own work, but for me it becomes something completely different when it is someone else's and you know not only the amount of  time, but also of themselves they've poured into a piece. In preparing the work for exhibition and for travel between exhibition locations, it was always on my mind that what I was doing, though behind the scenes, was vitally important to the life of this exhibition. I don't mean this in a self-aggrandizing way by any means, but simply in the fact that I am in some ways responsible for these pieces getting from one place to the next unscathed for two years or more.

What are you working on now?

I'm currently between projects. I finished a maple and walnut cradle prior to working on the Charis exhibition and am now looking to start a dining table—my first, so we'll see what happens! The real project for me right now is building my portfolio and getting my ducks in a row to apply for masters- level architecture programs.

Will you be visiting the exhibit once it opens?

Most definitely. I can't wait to see all the work on display instead of hiding in crates!

~by Myrna Anderson, communciations and marketing

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