At CAM, N.C.’s commitment to the arts

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 09:41 AM

North Carolina Arts Council 2013 Fellowship Award Exhibition,
Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), 409 W. Martin St., Raleigh, through April 27.
For information, call 919-261-5920 or visit

Art is not simply paintings or sculpture worked in traditional media or even photographs done in the most complicated digital imaging available; art is all of those things plus beautifully crafted wood boxes that hold landscapes made of layers of paper, pieces of machinery that rotate by sensor, filament that falls in space like controlled fire or a documentary about modern-day Afrikaners who see themselves in post-South Africa apartheid as victims.
The Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh is hosting the 15 winners of the 2013 N.C. Arts Council Artists Fellowships and the work is strong, creative, new and smart. The winners are at mid-career and receive a $10,000 award. Choreographers, visual and craft artists apply one year and writers, songwriters, composers the other. Locally we can be proud that more than 50 percent of the artists live and work in the Triangle and five --  Notasia Derubertis, Travis Donovan, Amanda Smalls, Leigh Suggs, and Jeff Whetstone -- are from Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
Derubertis and Whetstone are filmmakers; the former has created a short film about the attempts to keep a football player, who is in a coma, connected to the real world. His dance partner (he was taking ballet for agility and grace on the football field) creates a listening playlist for him while the film shows his dreams. Whetstone, on the other hand, takes his viewers on a North Carolina coon hunt in the dead of night where the flashlights light up patches of woods with unexpectedly beautiful moments.
Donovan’s presentation consists of three cascades of monofilament in a dark room; they fall from ceiling to floor illuminated by changing levels of light.  In his gallery comments he  considers how rich civilizations make mindless use of energy with artificial light in the daytime and air conditioning in empty hotels and offers,  “civilization perhaps (is) as scared to see the lights go out as was the hunter in his primitive night.”  
Using a large segment of wall and the floor, Smalls creates wall sconces and floor sculptures from porcelain, fiber and resin.  On one part of the wall objects simulate natural structures, with cloud-like forms hovering above and glass bubbles embedded inside; all drip long strings that puddle onto the floor. Another part of the wall is marked with lines that suggest mountain ranges. The colored forms on the floor seem to spread like warm pudding while spindly wood stakes outline structures that connect them. In her gallery comments she writes that these structures are all about mapping through new technology which will change the meaning of “home” or “place.”
By her own words Suggs is obsessive and her drawings are fueled by her own hallucinatory musings. She recalls patterns and shapes she used to see behind her eyelids.  In these exercises, she tries to interpret them onto a surface. She calls them hallucinations, these repeated shapes and lines, which always end in a circle. Sometimes the design is made by perforating the paper and sometimes by layering tiny bits of paper over the surface. 
Among the other offerings are Scott Hazard’s landscapes, meticulously made boxes that hold layers of carefully torn or cut paper covered with text, which simulate topographic forms. The artist writes he hopes these pictures offer a meditation-like experience for the spectator. There is also Tracy Spencer-Stonestreet’s video, “Dragging.” A woman drags the contents of a middle class dining room, table, chair, crockery, silverware, for a three-mile walk. I interpreted this as a visualization of the burden for women still weighed down by family responsibilities. The artist adds it represents reflections on the experiences of queer women in the South, something spectators would only know if they read the artist’s comments.
Marek Ranis’ “Kill the Boer Kill the Farmer” is a three-screen documentary video of more than 50 interviews of South African farmers. White South African men and women recount tales of violence against them since the end of apartheid. The artist does not tell us anything about the history of apartheid (only in his gallery comments) or any of the statistics. A cursory look on the Internet found no agreement about the numbers of deaths of blacks and whites during the period 1948 to 1994 and questions whether these crimes were unrelated criminal events or revenge. What is certain is 3.5 million black South Africans were physically removed from their homes, forced into segregated neighborhoods and denied citizenship. The new constitution set up truth and reconciliation hearings where the abused and the abusers could ask forgiveness; most South Africans feel these hearings were successful in fostering a peaceful transition.  Ranis has tackled a difficult subject but has not provided the viewer with enough information to make an informed judgment.
On the landing between the upper and lower galleries is Becky and Steve Lloyd’s series of ceramic bottles. He throws the pots and she makes the designs by carving into the clay.  In their gallery comments they discuss how their award money gave them the freedom to experiment with bigger pots, which are much more difficult to throw and decorate, and to be able to withstand the many failures as they honed their skills on a bigger scale. The Lloyds’ description of how they used their grant money to move forward in their art is what those who award the grants want to happen. This money represents North Carolina’s commitment to the arts; the 2013 winners are the top of the line.

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.