John's picture(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 3/14/2014)

“When power corrupts, art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.” President John F. Kennedy in a 1963 AmherstCollege address.

Reina Wooden signs her work as “Reina 76 Artist.” She recently opened a show at WITF Headquarters featuring a set of abstract sculptures I found thought provoking. The eight sculptures depict colonies, each defined by an open ended list of characteristics, and in some instances, names of people.

Each is introduced by “I am your REALTOR. Welcome Home.”

The “Medical Colony,” for instance, lists Prescriptions, Emergency Rooms, Health Management Organizations, Obamacare, Depression, ADHD and Addiction – boundaries, created by and within which a variety of rules, regulations and protocol constrain the colony’s residents.

Down the row, the “Military Colony” includes an American flag, a camera lens and a non-descript model head that could be either a gas mask equipped soldier or a pilot from one of the spacecraft reported to have landed at Area 51.

An abstract combination of materials, colors, and brain-piquing words and phrasesThe most interesting to me was “Gated Colony,” which Reina pointed out was supported by vacuum cleaner drive belts “constricting the boundaries of the community, but providing security within.” Electronic cables signify constant connection to electronics and rigid rules about building and resident appearance. (Please click thumbnail to enlarge the image.)

The accompanying list includes Landscaping, George Zimmerman, Community, Responsibility, Conformity, Trayvon Martin and Fear. I wondered if the Zimmerman and Martin references indicated a barrier meant to safely ensconce one within the colony while fearing and excluding the other.

“I hadn’t got that far,” she said. “I want people to come to their own ideas why they would consider being in it (the colony) or not being in it.”

Among the remaining colonies are Urban (“I live there,” she said, “but there are limited options.”), and Green, which she suggested was home to people either making money from destroying the environment or making money from saving it.

She explained those not profiting from the discussion likely do not understand the numerous messages assaulting them.

“There should be regulations on the message, too,” she opined.

Reina, herself, is a contradiction. She refuses to own a telephone, but she regularly communicates via Facebook. Go figure.

What drew me to the display by “Reina 76 Artist” was an invitation from a friend of the artist. What made me want to stay longer than we were able was the multitude of stories woven into the materials, the use of lightbulbs and trigger phrases (what is the Michael Milken Theory, anyway?) intended, successfully, to allow the viewer to simply look, or to contemplate the meanings of situations we encounter as we move through our daily lives, earning our daily bread, watching with joy or chagrin the events through which were threaded the names George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

The best art, wherever found, is that which entices us to enter the artist’s world, and invent our own stories.

There was a time when I enjoyed visiting galleries and museums, especially when they conveyed some message without necessarily telling me what it was. The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. offers a collection of photographs and artifacts allowing the viewer to imagine one of the most horrifying experiences of recent history. One of my favorite rooms in the Louvre offers gilt-framed windows into Victorian life; elsewhere, statues celebrate the human form in various historic and legendary endeavors.

Reina 76 Artist’s display re-awakened in me a desire to visit more art galleries, beginning with the Adams County Arts Council, in Gettysburg, only a few blocks from my home. I have been remiss in not having examined the offerings of local artists. I must rectify that situation, forthwith.

Meanwhile, the show called “WITF Art in the Atrium” will remain on display through April 11. WITF Headquarters is at 4801 Lindle Road, Harrisburg.