“Nature was dirty. Food couldn’t grow on trees. Breakfast was cupcakes.”
Former art student Bridget Conn measures her childhood in the distance between herself and the food that she ate. To Conn, food is more than raw nourishment; it infuses her upbringing with spirituality and tradition.
In her exhibit Tea Retrospective, now on display at Wilson’s Elizabeth Holden Gallery, Conn uses tea bags, inkjet photos, cursive paper, and ceramics to turn her childhood memories into a visionary mixed-media experience.
The energy of Conn’s work tinges the gallery’s glossy floors, reflecting gilded light on the twenty-nine artworks that freckle the walls. This is not the sort of exhibit where one dashes from painting to painting like a baseball player stealing bases. It’s the kind that provokes the viewer to spend time contemplating the meaning, emotion, hidden implication, and free flowing creativity that drips from each piece.
Harrowing in its familiarity, her piece entitled “In Need of Practice” incarcerated my attention. The work is an enlarged replica of an elementary level writing exercise with the word “patience” repeated in adolescent-style cursive on wood-mounted cursive paper. The piece spoke to me about repetition in education and forced me to question my own childhood as hers unfolded before me with explicit honesty.
In another piece, Conn conversed with my soul about voids and feelings of emptiness. The work, entitled “Missing Piece,” is a hand-colored inkjet photo of an apple with negative space forming a puzzle piece in the center. The photo is affixed to tea bags and mounted on wood, which I thought was simply genius. Just as Conn uses food in her art to make art about food, her subject matter and choice of media reflect each other as they comment on society’s lacking dietary habits.
As I studied each piece, I realized that Conn’s exhibit must be visited many times in order to be grasped entirely: while the exhibit supposedly centers on childhood and food, many pieces were more focused on spirituality and tradition, and I felt slightly confused by the broad range of subject matter. However, I could not help but sponge her message into my being: this is what real art does.