With galleries and exhibition spaces off limits because of the pandemic, it’s been a tough year for artists and art lovers alike. But now, UMBC artists are once again in the limelight at the annual SPARK pop-up gallery, a joint project with Towson University that can be enjoyed in person through June 26 at Maryland Art Place in downtown Baltimore. The exhibition, entitled SPARK IV: A New World?, is made possible through the sponsorship of PNC Bank, and expands on the light-based themes of past SPARK exhibitions to embrace the power of art to illuminate and inspire reflection and dialogue. 

Information on visiting the gallery is available on UMBC’s Arts & Culture Calendar. A virtual opening reception for SPARK IV: A New World? will be held on Thursday, May 6 at 6 p.m., and will include a tour of the gallery. To attend this free event, please register in advance here

SPARK IV presents the work of 24 UMBC and Towson University faculty and student artists or collaborative pairs. Through their artistic creations, the past year of the pandemic and longer timelines impacting our future are considered. After experiencing the chaos, upheaval, and uncertainty that dominated this past year, these artists help us see the world and consider how to cope, adapt, and persevere through whatever lies ahead.

“The act of discovery—delving into the idea, reflection, or space an artist creates with their work—is always the most inspiring aspect of curating,” remarks gallery curator Catherine Borg. ”That has been the case with the exhibition of SPARK, and the challenge as I considered more than 80 works from faculty and students from both UMBC and Towson.” As she selected the work to be displayed, five themes emerged that provided a structure to the exhibition: altered time, imagined places, future focus, climate horizon and equitable future.

Participating faculty and staff from UMBC include Evan Tedlock, Irene Chan, Kelley Bell, M.F.A. ’06, intermedia and digital arts (IMDA), and Melissa Penley Cormier, M.F.A. ’17, (IMDA), Lynn Cazabon, Samantha Sethi, Sarah G. Sharp, and Stephen Bradley. UMBC IMDA graduate students whose work is represented in the exhibition include Foster Reynolds-Santiago, Monique Crabb, Rahne Alexander, and Safiyah Cheatam. The art project of Kelley Bell and Melissa Penley Cormier, The Yonder Cabinet, in turn features artwork by UMBC’s Beth Yashnyk, Jim Doran, and Jenny O’Grady.

Of her work I Am The End Of The Patriarchy And So Can You, Rahne Alexander M.F.A. ’21, IMDA, remarks, “It’s a manifesto of sorts, comprised of catalyzing concepts and conclusions that have driven me as an artist, citizen, and woman. In most cases, a manifesto is written for the author first, and this is no exception. It’s an early 21st-century transfeminist statement of purpose, a letter of encouragement for my past self, and a travelogue of how I have arrived where I am today.”

Women Looking/Camerawoman by Sarah G. Sharp, assistant professor of visual arts, is part of a series of custom wallpaper designs based on images found in early underground feminist publications. “Among the discourse I expected to encounter when researching this material (abortion rights, the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, etc.), I found many conversations about the revolutionary potential of the newly created component of cable television: public access television channels,” she shares. “Public access TV represents the first TV-based examples of what media theorists call ‘the many speaking to the many,’ and, in some ways, it was a precursor to today’s social media.”

Irene Chan, associate professor of visual arts, created \I-Ching Cards/, an artist book—a set of interactive cards inspired by the I Ching or Book of Changes. As she describes her work, “The I-Ching, the Book of Changes is a 3000-year-old oracle Chinese divination tool that does not tell you what to do, but inspires you to answer your own questions—the activity is interactive. One is able to ‘read’ in infinite directions as it guides one through life.”

On May 14, May 28, and June 25 at 7 p.m., SPARK will present performances by Anna Kroll, M.F.A. ’23, IMDA, and Chloe Engel. Their work, entitled I Want To Be, takes place by telephone. In each performance, Kroll and Engel navigate a score in which they co-imagine events in a room. These are improvisational, spoken performances that have developed out of their collaborative practice of negotiating and refining scores to create imaginary realities. To attend the performance, audience members will call a phone number at a specific time, hear a welcome message, and then enter the “space.” A live captioned version will also be simultaneously available. Information on additional performances and events, including a video gallery, is forthcoming.

Presenting an exhibition like SPARK IV: A New World? is an expensive undertaking, and for the fourth consecutive year PNC Bank has generously invested in the collaborative UMBC-TU project. “PNC has a legacy of investing in the arts, as we understand the economic, social, and civic impacts that a thriving arts and culture community have on our city,” says Laura Gamble, PNC regional president for Greater Maryland. “There are few better ways to support our community, at a time when it’s never been more necessary, than by supporting the arts, and specifically, Maryland Arts Place’s SPARK exhibition, which features the thought-provoking works of local students and faculty.”

The SPARK gallery at Maryland Art Place may be visited in person from 12 p.m. through 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, through June 26. MAP is located at 218 West Saratoga Street between Park and Howard Streets in downtown Baltimore, with nearby on-street and garage parking. The exhibition can also be experienced virtually at sparkbaltimore.org.

Header image by Joseph Hyde.

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