By Taylor Larson
Situated high in a corner of the Gwen Frostic School of Art, Mindi Bagnall’s creation, “The World Wide Web,” carries an ominous message.
The intricate tangle of delicate dollhouses snared in a spider’s web of cables signifies the emergence of cyberspace into the real, concrete world, and what happens when technology intermingles with real time existence, a visual representation of how technology has the capacity to bind and trap. Originally displayed in Grand Rapid’s Fountain Street Church as an ArtPrize submission, The World Wide Web may be viewed at the Gwen Frostic School of Art until Dec. 16.
While some artists find their muse in the eyes of a beautiful woman, others find their starting point within themselves, social issues or nature. Mindi Bagnall gained inspiration for her piece from an itsy bitsy spider.
“I kept lots of pictures of spiderwebs, and there was one picture of a web in particular that had an octagon hole in the middle,” said Bagnall. “I thought, that looks like a house, and went from there. Home and shelter is part of my thing.”
The corner piece, which took Bagnall about four months to complete, is a departure from her usual work–pieces that tend to be mostly paint (acrylic and watercolor) or basic pen and pencil. Bagnall’s skills in these mediums are well developed. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in watercolor and, in 2007, her Master of Fine Arts in painting from Western Michigan University.
Bagnall taught foundation courses at WMU upon graduation, but after receiving the position of university art curator and student art gallery director, Bagnall maxed out the university’s 40 hours a week work limit, and now lends her skills to Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Squeezing in time between work for months of conceptualization and constructing, Bagnall cut from quarter inch plywood and pieced together the tiny, illuminated houses with gorilla glue. The homes were then sanded and spray painted before the silkscreened barbed wire wallpaper and wiring was added to their interior. Pale blue lights, suspended like mini chandeliers in the kitschy adobes, casted a hazy blue shadow throughout the miniature rooms, a tiny detail representative of the fuzzy glow of TV sets.
“A plan depends as much upon execution as it does concept. Even the crazy stuff, like Jackson Pollock, had some sort of thought, some sort of feeling behind it. How people interpret your work you really have no control,” Bagnall said. “I tell students if you really don’t want something to be interpreted in a certain way, don’t include anything that could lead in that direction. Know the culture and understand the way they think.”
While most viewers have picked up on Bagnall’s symbolism, others missed the message entirely, thinking the interconnected web symbolized a “rural electrification project” or a connection to the current mortgage crisis.
“When I was young, I always thought about computers taking over, or everything breaking down and we’re reverted to the Stone Age,” said Bagnall. “I guess that partly inspired my work as well.”
Much of the inspiration for Bagnall’s work stems from her disillusionment with the fairytale expectations of the American dream, a dream she has long woken up from. In fact, the majority of Bagnall’s pieces take an in depth look at these ideals, examining and falsifying the trite happily ever after cliché that is overplayed in society and the expectations people keep in order to be happy. The World Wide Web represents the depersonalization of society that stems, ironically, from the onslaught of social media; an issue unique to the age of instant gratification, Angry Birds, and the constant presence of television.
Bagnall attempts to point out just how isolating communication technology really is, and how it is a sorry state when society is content to gaze upon a bright blue box, plugged in and tuned to digital frequencies, rather than the thoughts and feelings of others, she said. With web interaction, Bagnall said she believes many factors of communication, like vocal intonation and body language, are lost. Valuable facial and vocal cues are substituted with semi colon right parentheses—winking emoticon.
Timely and expressive, Mindi Bagnall’s work offers a message and warning to the cyber generation. Sometimes, it is better to speak, communicate and listen rather than boot up, click, status update and post.