KOKOMO, Ind. — A year ago, Michael Koerner drove more than 2,000 miles to Vancouver, Canada where he spent a month alone on an island off the Pacific coast, creating drawings.
Starting October 4, those drawings, along with paintings and a typographical piece, will be included in Rise & Fall, a solo exhibition in the Indiana University Kokomo Art Gallery. The show opens with a reception from 4 to 8 p.m. October 4 in the Gallery.
Koerner, associate professor of new media, set up a studio on the island specifically for the isolation.
“The show itself is a social commentary on the profound effects of isolation, insularity, and short-sightedness,” he said. “I believe insularity is the reason why individuals can find it difficult to understand, empathize, act on behalf of others, and consider issues deeply if they are not experiencing it first-hand.”
He created 13 drawings during his time in isolation, on sabbatical. The exhibition also includes an 18-foot by 3-foot painting and a 26-foot typographical piece, where he writes on the wall in vinyl lettering.
In addition to his time in Vancouver, Koerner also performed research in Iceland, and at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, planning for his drawings, which address issues including natural habitats, deforestation, animals on the endangered species list, the copied crisis, gun control, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being in a new place fueled his creativity.
“I lived in a rain forest off the coast of Vancouver,” he said. “I had a lot of beautiful natural light. I was exposed to issues that were happening on the island, like the deforestation of the old growth that’s occurring. I knew there was deforestation, but living there for a time and becoming assimilated into the culture, passing the huge logging trucks and through areas that have been deforested, it connected me with the issue and made me more empathetic.
“As an artist, I can create not just as a cathartic exercise, but to communicate issues and allow others to understand them too. It’s a real gift to have that opportunity.”
Some of his messages are easy to detect, while others are more subtle.
“My goal is not to tell everyone my own opinion on these issues, but to put the issue out in a visual way that allows people to find an entrance into talking about it or experiencing it in a first-hand way they may not have before.”
The typographical piece, “A Horizon Worth Walking Towards,” balances the melancholy of the rest of his work, offering hope.
“I don’t want to walk around as a glass-half-empty kind of person,” he said. “As an artist, I need to offer hope, to mention what keeps me going.”
Koerner appreciates those who made his sabbatical possible, including his wife, Wendy Koerner, and two children, as well as colleagues in the New Media, Art, and Technology department and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He received a grant from the Office of Sustainability that helped finance his creative research.
The exhibition continues through Thursday, November 9. The IU Kokomo Art Gallery is in Upper Alumni Hall, in the Library Building, 2300 S. Washington Street. Admission and parking are free. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and closed Friday through Sunday.