IUCA+D professor’s project helping relaunch Iowa’s Westbrook Artists’ Site

Indiana University professor Kevin Lair‘s work was on display earlier this month at the Iowa State University College of Design downtown gallery.

Horror Vacui

Work from Lair’s “Horror Vacui” exhibition.

Lair and Elizabeth Walden’s collaborative work, titled “Horror Vacui (Nature abhors a vacuum. What do we make of its plenitude?): Work in Progress for Westbrook Artists’ Site (WAS),” is an ongoing project that attempts to conceptualize and respond to the natural life found at a rural site in Iowa, including a proliferation of bullfrogs at a small man-made pond there.

“I think our context and subject matter, as well as the role of creative inquiry, were the key points of interest for the College of Design at ISU,” Lair told Art at IU via email. “We believe that the sort of understanding of place created within the arts and humanities must play a role in defining ethical stewardship of the land, and that promoting the rural landscape as a place for creative exploration in engagement with others furthers this end.”

The exhibition statement presents the bullfrog in the exploration of the post-industrial rural environment: “The bullfrog — like so many others, including us — is a migrant from elsewhere that has flourished in its new environment and so is a perfect symbol of nature’s plentitude in the post-industrial farm; it is at once a sign of the land’s persistent fecundity and an infestation, a wild animal and an escaped food source, a source of delight and a scourge that eats everything in sight.”

“Horror Vacui” is Lair’s first project to help relaunch the Westbrook Artists’ Site, a project exploring the post-industrial rural condition located on about 500 acres of land near Winterset, Iowa. From 1996 to 2006, it operated as an artist-owned venue for interdisciplinary art, design and architecture. The site’s mission includes four goals: reframe the post-industrial rural site; build the site as an art space that reveals the complexity and nuance of rural and farm existence; expand the discourse of art and design in rural contexts; and provide resource and inspiration for innovation in interdisciplinary art and design.

Lair is a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, and works primarily through the IU Center for Art + Design in Columbus. He holds degrees in fine art and psychology from Drake University, and a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University.

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