An Evolution of Salt: Gabrielle Dunkley on Olivia Robinson Exhibit

Post by Gabrielle Dunkley, Stamp Gallery of Art

Before oil, salt was a commodity that forged empires. The dual dichotomies between products we consume and the byproduct of salt found in sweat are thoroughly dissected in Olivia Robinson’s whimsical exhibition.
Robinson used the Technological Revolution (1899-1902) as inspiration for her examination of labor and the byproduct of labor (sweat). The 192 hand-painted signs  speak to a time before digital mass production. The functional bicycle cart containing products seasoned with salt from human sweat demonstrate the process of utilizing waste for resources. Finally, the vibrant LED installation powered by human sweat gives new meaning to “powering your art”.

Robinson challenges viewers to consider the historical implications surrounding salt. Visitors indulge in a surreal reality created by her character, S.W.Eat, a clever wordplay on treats seasoned by sweat. These products serve as a vessel for communicating the social paradigms from which labor, power, and public health collide throughout history. The language we use to foster it, how we consume it, and the potential mediums to produce it are all examined in this retelling of S.W.Eat’s salted products.

While preparing and installing our most recent exhibit, the gallery staff noticed a rather peculiar phenomenon. Intrigued visitors peeked through our door asking:

What’s with the signs?”

The Stamp Gallery is a uniquely designed space with 188 windows that offer a fish bowl effect for visitors to peek inside.  After the staff spent hours cleaning every window and carefully pinning the ambiguous posters to the panes, visitors noticed the sudden barrage of words filling the once transparent gallery walls. During the installation process, we invited visitors to look a little closer at the posters. 

“Those can’t be hand painted.”

Yes they can. Visitors were both stunned and intrigued while looking upon the tiny traces of brush strokes.  Each poster featured a poem Artist Olivia Robinson generated by a linguistics archive that could compute words used in magazine archives, brochures, and advertisements used in the late 1800s. Robinson would take away commonly used prepositions and articles to reveal words that surrounded the context of labor, salt, and sweat. Remarkable accidental poems began to reveal themselves in dense, socially charged phrases. Robinson spent months hand painting impeccably exact block lettering that resembled the work of a printing press. At first glance, there was no way of knowing the amount of sweat that went into those posters, but visitors would soon learn just how much …

Want to learn more about Olivia Robinson’s work? You’re in luck. Contrary to the years described in her exhibit’s title, she is alive and ready to show you her interpretation of the eve of the technological era. Stop by the Stamp Gallery soon to experience art powered by the sweat off of Robinson’s back. Literally.

Stay curious,

Gabrielle Dunkley
Stamp Gallery

One Comment on “An Evolution of Salt: Gabrielle Dunkley on Olivia Robinson Exhibit”

  1. […] ← An Evolution of Salt: Gabrielle Dunkley on Olivia Robinson Exhibit Digitalizing Our Natural World: Gabrielle Dunkley On Tara Rodgers Exhibit […]

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