Visual Representations of the Alluring Archipelago

In conjunction with the Humanities Center Archipelagoes/Oceans/Americas Symposium, Charles Cohan and Fidalis Buehler discussed their art exhibitions in the Harold B. Lee Library.

IMG_1346-300x225PROVO, Utah (Oct. 6, 2016)—An archipelago is traditionally thought of as a chain of physical islands out in the ocean. Charles Cohan, artist and printmaking professor from the University of Hawaii, also explores how archipelagos could be related institutional structures.

Cohan is a part of the Archipelagos, Oceans, Americas (A.O.A.) research group which includes several faculty from BYU and Rutger University. Other visual artists included with Cohan in the art exhibition in the Harold B. Lee Library are Cody Arnall, Tiana Birrell and Fidalis Buehler, an associate professor of visual arts at BYU.

“I am particularly interested in things that resemble islands: things that are in isolation, things that are detached, surrounded in some way, or things that are made to be or made into an island,” Cohan stated.

An isolated area of fascination for Cohan is the Soviet labor camps of the mid-twentieth century. In his book The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes his own experience in the labor camps. Reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book was instrumental in the formation of Cohan’s current art project, Peaks.

As a printmaker, Cohan was especially interested in the idea of layering to create a two dimensional topographical record of the peaks higher than 6,000 feet in the Pacific Northwest. “These are the mountains that I grew up with, that I grew up on. Mountains I existed on or around for many years,” he explained.

To create his ethereal mountain prints, Cohan used a system of printing multiple times on the same paper with diminishing surface area for each print. The result is a gradual buildup of an abstract shape which looks like the topographical rendition of a mountain peak.

Another archipelagic institutional formation that has inspired Cohan’s work is international airport terminals. “An airport terminal is all about freedom, it’s all about the ability to travel, breaking boundaries, getting out and moving,” said Cohan. “Yet there is no more protected and no more restricted environment outside of a state or federal prison.” This restrictive atmosphere as a gateway to freedom reflects Cohan’s own conflict on air travel – he loves the experience of traveling, but hates the anxiety of the airport.

Another artist featured in the A.O.A. exhibit is Fidalis Buehler. He grew up on Hawaii and has been fascinated with island culture and mythology for most of his artistic career. His contribution to the A.O.A. research group has been a collection of mixed media paintings on panel. One of his major inspirations came from the island of Bali Hai from the film South Pacific.

“The director uses different color filters to make Bali Hai change colors. It makes it seem mystical and mysterious,” Buehler explained. In the film, Bali Hai is said to mean “I am yours” or “I am here.” Buehler illustrated this concept in his paintings by using fishing lure-shaped islands and bright colors as an enticing convention for the viewer, who sees the island from sea level as if approaching it on the water. These conventions demonstrate the cultural glorification of the island culture and the exotic nature of both the people and the land they reside on.

Hannah Sandorf (BA Art History and Curatorial Studies ’17)

Hannah covers events for the Humanities Center for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in art.


Charles Cohan explaining his process for Peaks

Fiddles Buehler explaining his paintings

Gallery attendee interacting with Cody Arnall’s piece  The Elevated Section of the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway

Tiana Birell’s C of Information_ C is for Cookie 

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