In commemoration of serving 35 years as an educator, Art and Art History Professor Meg Ojala debuted her most recent exhibit, “I Want to Show You Something” in Flaten Art Museum on Feb. 16. The exhibit explores the ecological beauty and complexity of bogs and fens through photographs, scanned paintings and written work, including contributions by author Barbara Hurd. The Manitou Messenger conducted an interview with Ojala about her exhibit, and her answers are shared below.
Manitou Messenger: What was your inspiration for this project?
Ojala: Well, I went into a bog with a close friend in the 1980s with my old Rolleiflex black and white camera. We slogged in in our wellies and it was unstable and really beautiful. I love the reflections and the line you can see underwater and how it is then reflecting the sky. There’s this spatial ambiguity, you know, being able to see two things at once in the bog.
Two and a half years ago I was thinking about my sabbatical project, which was coming up. I read a book about bogs by Barbara Hurd, the writer who is coming next week, and I was captivated by her description of the ambiguity in a bog. It fit with photographs I had done in the past, that were landscape photographs where there is a lot of spatial ambiguity. You don’t really know what is up, what is down, what is close or what’s far away. So I was thinking about how I could explore those ideas but on a bigger scale. You know, the whole bog is continuous, the whole bog is compressed time, because every photograph is compressed time, or something taken out of time. And bogs are sort of uncanny in the way that they are compacted.
Manitou Messenger: What led to your decision to include written pieces among the visual art?
Ojala: I really wanted to combine text and image. I’ve always sort of envied writers with their epigraphs … I decided I really wanted to use epigraphs and I wanted to present them as if they were an image, and they are an image, parallel to the photographs. That’s why they are the same size as the photographs, and they are meant to be an entry point into the work or to kind of inform.
Manitou Messenger: Another notable element of this exhibition is the placement of pieces in varying spaces, such as low down on the wall or on the floor. What led you to that decision?
Ojala: It was to give the viewer a really strong sense of their body moving in the space in relation to the work and suggesting the viewpoint of the camera. Also it is a kind of metaphor for being in a bog. You are off balance, you are not really grounded, you can be just sort of floating on a mat. So the viewer is having to look down and they see something in their peripheral vision and are drawn over to something else.
Manitou Messenger: You spoke briefly earlier about photography as taking a moment out of time. How do you see you see drawing in relation to that?
Ojala: I’ve always been very interested in combining drawing and photography. And I see my photographs as being kind of painterly and like drawings in a sense. They are a little bit between two mediums because of the abstraction in the photographs and the gesture and line. The scale of mark is so different in drawing that it is hard to put them together. I think that photographs and drawings are almost as hard to combine in a show like this as text and images – to do well.
Manitou Messenger: Much of your past work has related to conservation efforts. Does this project tie into that cause at all?
Ojala: One of my goals for this exhibit is to give the bogs, the plant life in the bogs and the bogs themselves sort of agency, like they are vital, alive, they are entities that are alive and completely indifferent to us, but we are having a huge impact on them. So, if the viewer can glean that, that these sundews are looking back at you, almost, then empathy for the bog, this living entity could lead to people being concerned about bogs. It is catastrophic what is happening in bogs in terms of climate change.