VOLUME: What’s in a Name?

With the closing reception last Thursday, VOLUME (between you and me) by Maya Freelon Asante has officially left the glass confines of the Stamp Gallery. While we are all sad to see the exhibition go, it will surely go down in gallery history has the first of its kind — not only as the first installation of the Artist in Residence program, but as the only exhibition in which visitors made the art on display.

Participating in VOLUME meant something different to every guest who took part in the process. For some people, sitting down at the table to work on the tissue paper quilt was a form of meditation in itself. They were able to temporarily remove themselves from their hectic schedules and take solace in the repetitive motion of attaching piece by piece of colorful paper to the ever-growing quilt. For others, entering the gallery was a source of excitement, and they were eager to showcase their creativity by adding to the kaleidoscopic conglomerate hanging from the ceiling. They added personal flair by embellishing the quilt with abstract shapes, twisted pieces, and images of butterflies (see Carmen’s blog post for more details on this development). I also witnessed visitors who were content to simply gaze at the quilt from outside the gallery before continuing on their way.

Observing these varying reactions to the exhibition got me thinking about its title, and how the word VOLUME has several meanings as well. I have to admit that I took a cue from the artist on this idea; she had decided to post the three definitions of the word “volume” on the wall just beyond the main entrance. However, Maya gave no explanation as to why each definition relates to the exhibition. I can only assume that she wanted the gallery’s guests to interpret the relationship between the exhibition’s title and the artwork, so I will attempt to draw my own parallels. The following is my interpretation of the definition as it relates to the pieces presented. I cannot speak to the artist’s vision, but only to my own receipt of the exhibition.

The full title of this exhibition is “VOLUME (between you and me)”.

One of the definitions of “volume” is “the amount of space that a substance or object occupies, or that is enclosed within a container, especially when great.” Perhaps this definition was meant to be the most literal of the three. As the quilt and “Peace by Piece” grew, each occupied a greater amount of space. The concept seems pretty straightforward. Let’s move on to the other, more metaphorically meaty definitions.

Another definition of “volume” presented was “quantity or power or sound. Degree of loudness”. This definition makes sense in terms of the dynamic nature of the artwork. As the quilt grew, it not only became physically larger, but the number of lives it has touched increased as well. More and more people have become connected through the mutual experience of adding to VOLUME, albeit unknowingly. The “degree of loudness” of this exhibition was not in decibels, but in the potential that it had in bringing together complete strangers. Perhaps one day, two people who had both participated in quilt-making will meet and discover that they had this activity in common. Upon realizing this common experience, they may be more likely welcome to future interaction. (If this ever happens to you, I would love to hear about it!)

The last definition of “volume” that I wanted to address is “a book forming part of a work or series.” While the artwork in this exhibition did not include words, each piece of tissue paper can be viewed as a story in itself. The people who entered the gallery carried their experiences, and thus their personal stories, with them. When each person added a piece of tissue paper to the artwork, he or she left behind a little chunk of their time on earth, along with a whisper about the chain of events that led them to be in that place at that moment, placing that particular piece of tissue paper where they chose. In this fashion, volumes upon volumes of personal history were swirled around “Peace by Piece” and strung together in the quilt.

I think that in a lot of ways, this display was aptly named. I hope that you agree.

-Geena Gao

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