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Death, Beauty in Smith Gallery

Smith – Sarah Ruiz

Susanne Bushman, Copy Editor

Students stepping into the Smith Gallery this week should be prepared to contemplate death and beauty with the arrival of “Hand Picked,” a show by Hannah Condon ’16.

The show’s title takes on multiple meanings, as the exhibit is filled with unaltered flowers and bones hand-collected by Condon.

“Now that it’s finished I think that my inspiration was beauty and that’s at the heart of the show,” Condon said. “I didn’t really know that when I first started. I’ve always thought that bones were very beautiful. I’m from Colorado. When I go on hikes I’ll find bones and collect them. So I decided that I wanted to fill the gallery up with bones.”

By filling the show with bones, Condon recognized that some people might shy away from the ghostliness of the exhibit, so she took extra care to create an aesthetically beautiful show in order to draw in viewers.

“I think most people’s instinct is to not be around bones, because they’re grotesque, they’re reminders of death—even if they’re really clean. But I’m really attracted to living with that and seeing the beauty in it,” she said

Smith - Sarah Ruiz
In “Hand Picked” Condon created place settings made out of flowers and bones. Photo by Sarah Ruiz.

Unable to sufficiently fill the gallery with just the bones she found while hiking, Condon purchased bones to fill out the space. Some of these bones, however, were much less clean than those she stumbled upon on her own, causing her to be uncomfortable handling them, at first.

“As I held them … I started to feel less afraid of them. At first I would only handle them with plastic gloves on, but then I started to feel more comfortable with them and see them as beautiful,” she said.

“Hand Picked” uses the bones in multiple ways. Baseboard is mounted around three walls of the gallery with bones attached to the baseboard at equal intervals. Hanging down from each bone piece is a string of smaller bones and bright and colorful flowers. On the fourth wall, Condon arranged flowers made of gathered calfskin. At the center of the gallery is a table and chairs. The white tablecloth is bedecked with intricate place settings of flower, bones and glass. The room is dominantly white, with the exception of the flowers, making for a dramatic contrast.

Because all the flowers in the room are real, they will wilt throughout the run of “Hand-Picked.” This is part of why Condon connected them to the bones.

“Another idea I’ve been interested in throughout my time at Grinnell is memento mori … those are objects that are a reminder of death. So like a wilting flower or a burning candle or skulls, I usually choose memento mori objects as my materials,” she said.

Though “Hand Picked” may seem like a calculated culmination of Condon’s interests, the process of creating the show was organic.

“I think in art classes there’s a lot pressure to know what your art means right away. And I think our art department really pushes for conceptual art and that’s not really the way that I work. I get an idea and I just have to do it and then I’ll figure out what it’s about and that’s I did with this show,” Condon said. “And now I think it’s about beauty and I think it’s also about care—caring for cast off or grotesque materials.”

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