Interview: Kay Arenson Celebrates Environmental Process

Aug. 20, 2009
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Kay McKinley Arenson became Director of Marketing and Exhibitions at the Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, Wisconsin approximately two years ago. With the completion of the recently opened exhibition " environmental art in process," Arenson breathes a sigh of relief. Besides working full time for the school, Arenson also works as an artist. After being a photojournalist in print and broadcast media during her first career, she started painting ten years ago. Cottage Row Gallery, also in Fish Creek, represents Arenson who chooses to use pastels for her figurative subjects that portray light and movement, liveliness, on paper. After a full week finalizing the details for these land installations and an opening reception for the Art School, Arenson discusses the process in creating an environmental exhibition of this scale.

Q: What inspired this art exhibit and how did you choose the artists?
A: Karl Saliter contacted the school through the mail, and I knew this artist to be incredible. During the same time, Dan Engelke approached the committee for a proposal [to show his work]. We all thought this would work well. Wouldn't it be great to celebrate process? But Karl would have to travel, and Dan would be highly visible in the park [Peninsula State Park]. Then I thought what about the school's gallery? I contacted Bill Mckee with the express interest of him showing work in the gallery. As we began to put the exhibit together, documentation became an integral part of the show, so part of the gallery is used for documentation [how the work came to be].

Q: Why was the exhibit so timely?

A: It was serendipitous that the park [Peninsula State Park] was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Land art is done outdoors, its venue working with the natural landscape. Installations are also very timely right now. All though, in installations per se there usually is an element of technology involved. It's actually all very contemporary, although ancient cultures have interacted with the landscape since the beginning of time.

Q: Was the school involved in acquiring permission for harvesting the materials or placing the sculptures in Tennison Bay?

A: The artists did all that by themselves. There were permits to be acquired by the DNR and from the park. There had to be specifications for the sculptures placed in the water. When harvesting [by hand] the Honeysuckle roots and branches from the park, Bill did get the park's permission. But he was just doing something the park does anyway. This whole process [curating the exhibit] began at least two years ago. And it has been rumbling around in the minds of the artists for a lot longer than this.

Q: What excites you personally about the exhibit?
A: It's the fluidity. The process part that you can't predict. It has to do with the unpredictability, the passion, the element of surprise. You need to trust the process and when you trust it, it is successful. The process is just as satisfying as the completed exhibit. People need to know these ideas are rumbling around in the brain for years, both as an artist and curator, from beginning to end. Its important to reveal this to the community.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece in the exhibit?

A: The community's reaction to these pieces, the exhibition. There has been so much in favor of the exhibition, so it has been very exciting to see their reaction that goes beyond the walls of the art school. We had a packed house for the panel discussion, the artists talking about their process. You need a passion for this. Being invited into the process, being welcomed. There's so much joy in the process of creativity so you want to share this. That's what was funny about the nameecotivity. It's about actively pursuing creativity, an esoteric meaning relating to this activity which drives all these efforts.


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