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MOCA art exhibit: crafting the human brain

The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville is currently featuring a recent installation piece by artist Caroline Lathan-Stiefel. Wider than the Sky describes the artist’s reaction to her father’s encephalitis which can lead to memory loss. The name of this piece comes from an Emily Dickinson poem that describes the brain’s capability to absorb more than we can imagine.

Wider than the Sky features a series of intertwining materials such as pipe cleaners, wire, plastic, and fabric that weave together to exemplify the complex nature of the human brain. Lathan-Stiefel has been making room-sized installation pieces for about 12 years. An installation piece is a three-dimensional, most often site-specific work that is meant to transform the way a space is seen.

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel stands in front of her exhibit.  Photo by
Caroline Lathan-Stiefel stands in front of her exhibit.
Photo by Thomas Hager

Wider than the Sky is featured in MOCA’s Project Atrium, an open, rectangular, multi-story space located at the entrance of the museum. Staircases on both sides of the atrium lead to other floors and add a unique layer of perspective for this particular work. The skylight above fills the room with natural light and adds an interesting openness, vibrancy, and airiness to the exhibition space.

Ben Thompson, curator at MOCA, explained Project Atrium by saying, “The intent behind that exhibition series is to bring in these artists and have them be challenged by the scale of the space.”

“I thought this particular space was so unusual and you don’t often find a forty-foot space that’s kind of set off by itself, and with the staircases going up either side it’s a really interesting, challenging kind of space,” Lathan-Stiefel said.

Wider than the Sky features text, which is a fairly new concept for Lathan-Stiefel. The words used in this piece are the few things her father could say during his time with encephalitis. He used simple words to describe a variety of things, such as “South Carolina” for referring to a place and “rice” when talking about an object.

Lathan-Stiefel said, “Because of the piece being about language and loss of language and learning language again, obviously text was integral to the piece. Using the text in the piece was definitely new and I’m definitely interested in possibly working with text again.”

When asked what was different about this piece compared to her other pieces, she said, “It’s a very pictorial piece, almost like a gigantic window box or diorama, and I really like that kind of way of looking at the work.”

Wider than the Sky opened at MOCA on July 25 and will be available to view until Oct. 26. MOCA Jacksonville is a “cultural resource” of UNF and is free for all UNF students to attend. There will be five exhibitions during the month of September in addition to the permanent gallery.

Gallery photos by Doug Eng

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Email Lacey Wyndham at [email protected]

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