The Biennial 2015: 2011 tornado featured art at ‘The Biennial’
Published 3:00 am Wednesday, August 12, 2015
The artwork of 43 notable Alabama artists is on exhibit at the Johnson Center for the Arts’ “Celebrating Contemporary Art in Alabama: The Biennial 2015.”
The artists were honored with a reception at the Johnson Center Sunday afternoon and those who attended where invited to visit with the artists to learn about the inspiration for their artwork and the creative process behind the art.
Birmingham area artist, Karen Graffeo was gracious in taking time to talk with visitors about her installation titled, “Tornado.”
Vicki Pritchett said so many people were drawn to the exhibit because of the tornado that devastated portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in April 2011.
“We all felt the heartbreak of that tornado,” she said. “Those who have attended ‘The Biennial’ were affected by the artwork that it inspired.”
All of Alabama stood still that April afternoon as the tornado roared through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Live images of the tornado were captured on camera andn chronicled the horrific happenings.
“One of my colleagues stood in his yard in Birmingham watched as a single necktie fell slowly from the sky,” Graffeo said. “That’s the way it was the day the tornado hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
“The sky was filled with aluminum siding, family photos, wedding dresses, recipes, love letters and neckties – a choreography of chaos.”
Graffeo said every memento was raptured and refused, then taken back up, stirred and relocated and then fell back to earth as one tiny piece of human history.”
Theses tiny pieces of human history were scattered for miles and tangled among hundreds of other tiny pieces of human history never to be singular again.
Tornadoes can twist and crumble a piece of metal while a wedding dress can be left hanging loosely and delicately from the limb of a splintered tree, Graffeo said.
As an artist, Graffeo was inspired by the images of a sky filled with the personal mementos of hundreds of people who did not know each other and never would.
“All of those scattered mementoes held stories of those people — their hopes and dreams and their histories, scattered and gone,” she said.
Their stories may never be told. But Graffeo’s desire, her passion, was to capture the feeling of watching a necktie fall from the sky in the aftermath of a tornado.
Each piece had a connection to someone, meaning for someone and was a loss for someone.
She found a way to capture that feeling with the image of a lovely, lonely young woman captured on a cloth of silk in Romania. With photo images and images of mementos captured on film and transferred to aluminum and then crumpled with a force only a whisper of the twister in the sky.
Pritchett said 42 other artists have intriguing stories to share about their artwork.
“These artists have shared their stories through the written word,” she said.
“Each piece has a description by the artist noted next to the artwork. We encourage those who visit ‘The Biennial’ to take a few minutes and read the artists’ statements. It will make the exhibit even more meaningful.”
“The Biennial” will close on Oct. 15. Admission to the Johnson Center is always free.