By Molly Igoe
Heather Harvey’s exhibition, called “Satellite,” premiered Oct. 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Sandbox studio during Chestertown’s First Friday. The exhibition title alludes to Virginia Woolf’s fictional character, Judith, in “A Room of One’s Own.” Woolf meditates on the fate of “Shakespeare’s Sister” who had all of the brilliance but none of the social support that her brother enjoyed. Harvey is an assistant professor at Washington College in art and art history, and a studio art coordinator.
The show is a companion/preview exhibition to Harvey’s upcoming exhibition, “Feynman’s Sister and Other Space Weather Hazards” this October at VisArt in Rockville.
Harvey said, “ I used Joan Feynman’s career and biography as a starting point to visually and poetically play with a variety of layered allusions, for example her research into solar weather specifically, the joys of scientific discovery more broadly, as well as social constructs that are often subtle and coercive.”
According to Harvey, the exhibition is meant to have both a child-like sense of wonder at the world, as most scientists were drawn to their field as children when they were mystified and delighted by the world around them, as well as a more adult/sophisticated scientific ordering approach what scientists do when seeking answers to puzzling observed phenomena, and finally a circumspect, critical eye on cultural, social & political narratives.
Harvey explained the relation between the objects in the exhibition, like a green fork, pink swim speedos’, and a My Little Pony toy, which are meant to remain ambiguous and allusive rather than explicit and direct.
She said, “Although with more time spent observing the exhibition, certain trajectories and connections will emerge, it is worth noting that all of these objects were found on daily walks near my home. So I begin as a scientist might, by collecting observable phenomena and attempting to find order or make some sense out of it. Of course as an artist I am not bound by scientific methods or the need for verbal clarity. Instead, I look for poetic and visual connections and for oblique reference points.”
In the area with the pink speedos and the My Little Pony, for example, she assembled finds that were obviously gendered and manufactured for little girls to use. This tells us something about the social constructs we put girls in. The same happens with boys, of course.
“I’m making connections between wider gendered cultural experience – the ways girls and boys get boxed into narratives – and the baffling constraints a young Joan must have felt when told she couldn’t be a scientist because girls don’t have the brains for it,” Harvey said.
She said, “Social constructs matter. They influence what we can make of our lives. They have the power to constrain us or liberate us. It starts young, and even insinuates itself into such banal things as swimwear and toys. There is no avoiding this. But we can be more conscious of what is happening and how. And we can be more mindful of the narratives we collaboratively create for ourselves, our children, our communities.”