Deborah Wing-Sproul's "Water, Algae, Ice"  

by Joanne Greco Rochman


What beautiful sounds and sights the ocean makes. Whether waves gently kiss the shore, playfully dash in and out of rocky terrain, or crash forcefully and dangerously upon the beach, the sounds and sights of the ocean are as varied as they are irresistible. Artists in just about every genre have photographed, painted, and even sculpted everything on and in the sea, but few have captured the ever-changing, ever-expressive ocean as artist Deborah Wing-Sproul has in "Water, Algae, Ice." Currently, this selection of works from Tidal Culture I, II, III, and IV – Maine, Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland is on exhibit at the Burt Chernow Galleries located in the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport, CT.

In experiencing Ms. Wing-Sproul's multi-media, multidisciplinary art, you are immediately drawn to the welcoming and familiar call of the sea. As you first take in the many components of the exhibit, you are pulled to the video screens hung on the walls of the gallery as surely as if the force of the art is as strong as the elements it captures. As you enter deep into the exhibit, a calming oneness with the nature prevails until you are completely enveloped by the sights and sounds captured by the artist.

Deborah Wing-Sproul works in video/performance, sculpture/installation, drawing, photography and printmaking. Her biography informs us that "prior to studying film, video, and printmaking she was a modern dancer and choreographer." This aspect is still prominent in the seamless motion and fluid movement of her art.

Though the photos, videos and three dimensional works are extraordinary and exhilarating, during an interview with The Review, Ms. Wing-Sproul said that she is humbled by the nobility of the ocean. "To sit by the ocean and look out into a vast world is such a humbling experience." She also stated that she does not try to preserve her art or create anything that is archival. This includes her algae objects that become especially fragile when taken out of their natural environment. It also includes icebergs and mountains that are continually evolving and changing. Of course, all of this makes her work all the more urgent and alive.

Originally from the Finger Lakes district in Upstate New York, the now Maine-based artists when asked about the stark, cold, lonely drama so evident in her work said, "I've always been drawn to northernly and bleak landscapes." The catalogue accompanying this exhibit refers to Ms. Wing-Sproul's "old house in the snow-belt region" where she grew up content to be alone. "She spent time as a child hiking and camping, sailing and paddling, fishing and smelting with her father. She learned to be resourceful in the woods and to read navigational maps."

Describing the ocean as a "ceaseless struggle of life and death," the stationary silhouette displayed in several videos practically belies the "unstable conceptual, experiential, biological, and environmental web of  endless interactions, exchanges, mysteries, and material and temporal transgressions."

Another attention grabber in this exhibit is a panoramic photograph of ribbons of algae tossed about and intertwined as naturally and colorfully as an autumn landscape though spread out on the sea. "The algae that the artist collects has washed up on the beach, possibly having traveled enormous distances with currents, tides, and storms." Once she has them in her possession, she weaves, shapes, and creates objects out of them such bowls, spoons, and even a piece that is woven together in the shape of a shirt. She is particular about the strands she chooses, not wanting to unnecessarily knot the algae. "I don't feel I am the seaweed," she explained when it was discovered that she was lying beneath the seaweed in the panoramic photo. "I feel like I was held by it – conceptually."

Her preference for cold and northerly locations led her to journey to Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland. Though she claims that she is not a dare devil nor thrill seeker, her ventures are not without risk. On one particular cold day in Greenland, she had quite a fall and experienced excruciating pain. "The experience resulted in my video, 'Limited View'. It also made me empathetic towards others who are in pain," she said. The piece, "Limited View" focuses on a man who literally transports water to the villagers. The artist described him as a human water pipe.

Through this exhibit, one can essentially join the artist in her discoveries and appreciation of the natural world. Materially and conceptually minimal, her work ends up accessible and universal. "The materials I work with are not possessions of the privileged," she stated.

Deborah Wing-Sproul has received many notes and correspondences from people who have attended her exhibitions and have been moved by them. It's often difficult for people to feel that they have control of their lives. However, after talking with Ms. Wing-Sproul and experiencing her powerful exhibit, one comes away willing not to focus on control. The sounds and sights and experiences the artist shares here is an acute awakening of the senses as well as an awareness that all is connected, all is relevant, and all is beautiful – even on a cold and bleak landscape.


The Review ©2009