Touring wonderland

Every two months, I leave the ordinary behind and enter an imaginary art world, in the company of a few other people. Together, we learn from its creators and discuss among ourselves how best to navigate and pass on our collective knowledge to others.

L. Dill

This is my volunteer “job.” I give tours at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. It is the best continuing art education possible. I get to listen to some of the most noteworthy regional, national, and international contemporary artists discuss their practice. I get to discuss exhibits with the curators, exhibit preparers, and educators who make them happen.

We work with students, ranging from elementary school children at public and private institutions to high school and college classes studying studio art, art history, creative writing, urban sociology, and political science (to name a few). We host seniors’ groups, after school programs, and boys and girls clubs. Every exhibit provides new creative potential as well as a new set of challenges for working with these groups.

Before each exhibit opens, we meet with the artist. In 2013, we met with Leslie Dill (pictured above) and with Renee Stout, two of my favorite artists. Both are outstanding visual storytellers. You can see their work here:

The Halsey Institute’s current exhibit is Patterns of Place featuring “isomorphic map tables” by artist and architect Pat Boinest Potter of Anniston, Alabama. Here (below) are a few examples of these “tables,” which remind me of imaginary GIS topographic layers.



Part of her inspiration was the book Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Pulitzer prize winning neuroscientist Douglas Hofstadter (1979).

Here’s a mathematician’s thoughtful discussion of that book and its implications.   Hofstadter visited at the time of Potter’s exhibit opening and their discussion of cognition, physics, meaning, and visual art was lively.


The other inspiration for Pat’s work is a hundred mile stretch of mountains and plateau in northern Alabama. Her ability to combine flotsam from her ordinary everyday world—things gathered during her walks—with lofty concepts taken from theoretical physics and mathematics are impressive indeed. Photographs don’t do some of this art justice, but I encourage you to look at these sites. Then support your local contemporary arts institution by going to explore its world of the imagination with an open mind.

About Lillian-Trettin

I grew up in the Appalachian "Bible Belt" of East Tennessee in the southern United States, listening to banjo music and gospel lyrics as well as the Beatles. As a kid, I was curious about religious rituals like speaking in tongues and snake handling but resistant to the fundamentalist thinking they involved. Flannery O'Connor's tales of religious fanatics, con men, bigots, and the spiritually bereft or ambivalent resonate for me. Despite having traveled widely and lived in other places, I am (as so many Southerners claim to be) permanently "South haunted." I returned to making art full time in 2011, following a career as a teacher, researcher, and consultant and after raising two sons. I’m convinced the delay enriched rather than impeded my growth as an artist.
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