Scenes formed of trash tell tale of land, litter

The Baltimore Sun

Whether cut, shredded, glued or sewn, the stuff of landfills becomes art under the influence of Nadya Volicer.

The New England artist took over McDaniel College's Peterson Hall for a week, transforming the Rice Gallery into a recycling landscape called This Land Is Your Land(fill), an installation on display through Sept. 28.

Volicer's papery landscape represents the literal and figurative: Inspired by the song within the title, she designed her own America, complete with the Rocky Mountains of the West, the East's Appalachians and a Mississippi River down the middle. But it also aims to coax those who see it to contemplate their own waste-disposal habits.

"Recycling and thinking green is more on the rise, but it's still not everybody," Volicer said. "If this weren't here, it'd be trash."

In Volicer's hands, a discarded comics page folds into a mountain. The shredded pages of a magazine stand to imitate grass. Quilted sheets from a child's picture dictionary help shape the Rockies, and sewn paper strips wind their way along the print- and image-laden riverbanks.

She actively practices what her work subtly preaches. Among the recyclables collected by McDaniel College assistant professor of art Steven Pearson, Volicer weaves pieces of earlier installations.

The paper kites from a Connecticut art event can resurface in modified form as part of the McDaniel display, as do large manila envelopes posted to Nebraska's Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, where Volicer participated in an artist residency program. A quick scan of the landscape reveals bits of various local newspapers, including some from a recent stay in Texas.

Yet as she walks the fine line between inspiring thought and slipping into didacticism, Volicer said, "I'm not preachy. I'll throw stuff away sometimes, too."

Regardless of their origins, the materials she uses testify to a greater artistic point -- one that Pearson said he regularly strives to teach his students.

"Some of the most banal things ... could be sources for their artwork, either inspirational or materials," said Pearson, who saw Volicer's work during an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center in January 2006.

He said he admired her installations, which led to an invitation to create one at McDaniel.

The artist traces her penchant for the recycled to her days at Massachusetts College of Art, when she spotted "gorgeous" wood, covered with old lead-paint colors, set out on a curb for trash collection. "I just got attracted to the material," Volicer said. "I started picking it up and taking it back to school."

She branched into paper about a year and a half ago, in part because of its lighter weight and easier transportability. As she collected, her appreciation for the materials evolved into a greater dedication to recycling, she said.

The installations are "like fort-building to me. It's like playing," Volicer said. Her art often aims to draw viewers in, allowing them to experience it physically -- and, ideally, connect with it. "I really want to share that sense of play."

In creating her latest piece, Volicer said, she worked with the idea of a "national park landscape." Just as viewing spots in parks allow people to take in the scenery, so a platform off to the side is meant to help gallery visitors take in the paper vista.

Senior Chanan Delivuk, one of Pearson's students, took in the view while Volicer was fashioning fresh paper mountain ranges on pieces of cardboard.

"It takes a lot to do something like this," Delivuk said, surveying the room. For Delivuk, who is also taking an environmental policy class, the installation merges disciplines.

"It represents a lot of our society," she said. Although resources are "so precious to us," Americans tend to waste them. "When you can see it put to use, and make art out of it, [that] says a lot."

Pearson said he hopes Volicer's installation opens his students to the variety encompassed by the word "art."

Work like hers "breaks some of their views that art is a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers," Pearson said. "I want them to see the wide range that is available for them to view and to make on their own."

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