Rollins Museum of Art’s ‘One Act of Kindness’ explores the borderlands where cultural connection can happen

Joe Wardwell (American, b. 1972) “Out of Kindness I Suppose,” 2019-21
Joe Wardwell (American, b. 1972) “Out of Kindness I Suppose,” 2019-21 Acrylic on canvas, 38 x 60 inches © Joe Wardwell, The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara ‘68 and Theodore ‘68 Alfond. 2021.1.36

The exhibition One Act of Kindness: A World of Difference at Rollins Museum of Art highlights four pieces by four artists: Guillermo Galindo, Patrick Martinez, Monte Olinger and Joe Wardwell. Together the works explore a range of material and experimental approaches while also engaging concepts of empathy, legibility and immigration.

Artist/composer Galindo's sculpture is described as an "assemblage instrument." The materials include a shoe, some gravel, a wooden handle, an amplifier and a wooden tray displayed within a vitrine. Galindo creates his assemblages from items discarded or left behind by immigrants on the dangerous trip across the United States border.

The title of the work, "Zapatófono," combines the Spanish word for "shoe" with "gramophone." There is a suggestion that the work could share the stories — or play the songs — of those who once used or wore the items while risking their own lives to cross into the United States. "Zapatófono" leads the viewer to wonder about the person who wore that shoe — what they encountered, if they are still living — and consider a situation not their own, as it relates to displacement, citizenship and perhaps even liberation. Many artists have created work that addresses the border between the United States and Mexico in recent years, and we might suggest following up this exhibition by exploring the paintings and performances of Ana Teresa Fernandez and public sculpture by Marco Ramirez.

Gallindo's work speaks not only to the Mexican-American border but the various borders we see and perceive every day, even in Florida. Delineations of space have been mapped out very differently by tribes of indigenous Americans, and Florida was given borders by other countries, like Spain, as well. Discussions about our country's borders often center around confronting a binary as it relates to opposition; however, borders and boundaries could also function as spaces for potential connection. It is intriguing to think of Florida in this way, as a space for cultural connection that can happen in unlikely ways.

In contrast, Martinez's neon-green text outlined by a pink neon frame, "Then They Came For Me," expresses the fear this journey may entail. His work uses materials typically fabricated for street signs and advertisements to share language that expresses fear, trauma and cultural turmoil. The title is borrowed from a text attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller, who spoke out against those complicit with the Nazis:

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

"Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me." The text is a chilling, if not prescient, warning.

Finally, there are two paintings in the exhibition. One is a work by Wardwell that depicts a fragmented and shattered field emblazoned with the phrase "Out of Kindness I Suppose." The other is a compelling painting by Olinger titled "St. John's Sunset," a composition bisected by a horizon, a border of sorts.

Contemplating the textual and formal relationships between the pieces in One Act of Kindness, one can't help but think about these works within the current social and political climate. Creativity as an action can be a potent form of protest — activists, artists, environmental conservationists, teachers, librarians, writers and even museum curators navigate this every day, especially in Central Florida under the shadow of the current state administration.

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