Darwent’s “The Setting Stone” explores the aesthetics of the urban environment through mixed media installations.
Shane Darwent’s “The Setting Stone” is a meditative exploration of urban space, materiality and change. This exhibition is the opening show in the Alexandre Hogue Gallery, housed in Phillips Hall. “The Setting Stone” will be on display until Sept. 26 and open to the public 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday.
Darwent moved to Tulsa last January as a Tulsa Artist Fellow and is starting his second year of the fellowship. While he began his artistic career as a photographer, his photos quickly became a jumping off point for the kinds of sculptural displays that comprise “The Setting Stone.”
Growing up near Charleston, South Carolina, in a small town called Mount Pleasant, Darwent recalls the effects of urban changes in the community. As a major highway expanded rapidly, streetside vendors and the cultural ties to various groups were quickly consumed and displaced. Darwent became interested in the dialogue that this created between urbanization and cultural traditions that continues to inform his work today. He points out that in reparation for the destruction inherent in large projects like these, cities “name our strip malls after the cultures that we’ve decimated and then we build an awesome bronze statue dedicated to those struggling traditions.”
Similar stories have occurred and continue to occur across the country, echoing the constant conflict between urban development and the consequences implicit in this change. Through a consideration of these ideas, Darwent became interested in the aesthetics of awnings that distinguish storefronts. He describes the bright colored fabrics as “Garish post-modern strip mall explosion symbols.”
In direct opposition to the aesthetics of the awnings, Darwent reflects on the garden. Gardens folly, or building-like sculptural decorations in gardens, Darwent describes, are made without any real purpose. He incorporates the aesthetics of the folly into his works, viewing them as the ultimate symbol of leisure over the utility that characterizes urban aesthetics.
With this opposition in mind, Darwent started making sculptures that used the shape and material of awnings, but arranged them to reflect the kind of playful leisure of garden folly. In several of Darwent’s recent projects, he considered the intersections of these two distinct aesthetics. He looks to things like the ornamental shrubbery that decorates the backside of many fast food restaurants, referencing Taco Bell specifically, as a kind of urban garden folly.
Darwent continues to explore the aesthetics of urbanization in “The Setting Stone,” where he incorporates layers of building materials, focusing on stone and its many uses. His meditation on the implications of these materials moves to form a new understanding of the material and of urban aesthetics.
He began working on “The Setting Stone” as a project specifically for the Hogue Gallery as he always does when creating exhibitions for new spaces. When first looking at the space, he was struck by the unique combination of materials that constitute the area, describing the brick entryway as a “collegiate gothic” style, in contrast to the sleek white gallery walls.
This intersection informs the use of stone in the exhibition. Darwent considers the idea of the facade, incorporating a kind of plastic stone material usually used for fencing. With this, he examines the idea of power and durability that many old stone buildings bring to mind. The use of fake stone clashes with the lavishness of past associations. Instead, this calls to question why we manufacture plastic to look like stone at all. Darwent likens this fabrication to the production of vegan chicken nuggets, questioning whether a vegan actually wants something that resembles meat when the same products could be used to create something entirely separate.
Darwent’s consideration of the aesthetic of durability and implications of certain materials is revisited in each of the works in the Hogue Gallery. He uses images of stone in a wavy column to the gallery ceiling that clashes with our conception of stone pillars as symbols of stability. One piece centers on an image of a stone that emits water, seeming to cry into the plastic bucket below.
A video work projected onto the wall features a man walking around a round-about while the camera encircles the space moving in the opposite direction. A loop of stone spins as the camera moves, transporting viewers to an almost meditative and hypnotic state while remaining grounded in a distinctly urban space.
In each of his works, Darwent continues to work towards an understanding of the nuances of urban spaces and materials. “The Setting Stone” seems to push the boundaries of how we interact with and recognize the aesthetic of stone that appears so often in the man-made environment.