Monday, October 29, 2012
The Power of an Empty Chair:
Section B Expresses Time, Loneliness, Community, and Authority
By Nancy Reimann
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- Time, community, news, and media provide a frame and foundation of our culture. An empty chair symbolizes a seat of power, a place of punishment or reward, or the throne of a king—pull your chair in and create intimacy, turn your chair away to reject another person or idea. In their collaboration, Section B, artists Brian Nixon and Khanh Dang employ powerful imagery to signify various levels of time, community, loneliness, and authority in our culture.
Over the course of 28 weeks, Brian gathered the main photo from section B of the Sunday edition of the Albuquerque Journal. Using pastels and the headline from section B, he created an abstract painting over each photograph.
Brian explains the creative process: “Essentially, I cut out the leading image from section B (which happens to be the New Mexico segment), wrote out the headline using a calligraphy pen, and then shaded over the image using pastels. Of great importance is the date: There is a historical chronology to the events, a linear unfolding of time. On the back of each image, I wrote the name of the photographer, giving credit to a person from within the community that helped define the work.”
What inspired you to collect images from section B?
“I’m fascinated by the changing role of media. Newspapers used to rule the world, at least as media was concerned. Now, however, they’re on the decline. People prefer the Internet, smartphones, and other sources to get their news immediately. So in a sense, the images taken from section B are like relics, archeological finds of a changing community, both technologically and socially. People can’t seem to wait for the news. We want it now. Think of the Olympics: We knew the results of the events before they were broadcast on the TV or printed in the paper. Media is morphing before our eyes.
“So my inspiration came from trying to understand the flow of time, the quest for community within a particular region within the United States, the changing role of media, and, believe it or not, how God fits into all of this, best represented by the empty chair.”
“When Brian came to me to explain his vision for the project, I wasn't familiar with section B. I don't read the newspaper. We discussed the work he had completed and when he brought me the images, I was amazed at what he created. He collected images about what is going on in our community, in Albuquerque, in New Mexico, in people's lives—our lives. We selected the chair used in the Ransom Project artwork and documentary—a chair which represents isolation, loneliness, and desperation,” Khanh explained.
Khanh chose a bright red acrylic paint for the silkscreen process.
“Red represents energy, action, desire, and passion—it also represents the blood of Jesus Christ. Everyone is busy, the activity in the photos reveals that—but red demands your attention. No matter what activity was going on in the photo or in our lives, I wanted to draw attention to the chair.”
What does the collection represent to you, Khanh?
“As I worked on the project I thought a lot about the chair. I look at it from a designer's point of view and consider how it was built, how it was constructed, and the materials that were used. I began to consider how the chair also represents the Christian life: Jesus created us uniquely; we are different from anyone else. I also considered the images before me. There was a lot of activity going on, but deep down, were they pretending to enjoy it or were they empty inside?
“I hope people can look at the collection of 28 pieces together as one. There's a repetitive element: the same color, the same chair. While the background comes from different places and times, the chair is constant. I hope people ask, ‘Why does this same chair appear on every image? Why doesn't the icon change?’ I want people to consider who is sitting on the chair of their life. I want them to see it and really think. I am repeatedly asking, ‘Is Jesus in your life? Is He your Savior? Is He involved in every area and activity of your life? Is He Your King?’”
The idea of the empty chair is a popular one. When Clint Eastwood delivered his empty chair speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, social media sites were deluged with empty chair photos and quotes. Bloggers, news outlets, even David Letterman jumped on board, pointing to empty chairs with varying tones of both sarcasm and sincerity.
Brian explains, “Though most people found [Eastwood's] dialogue humorous, I found it to be fairly profound, in that it created a larger metaphor for who sits in the chair of our nation… But for me, there was a larger issue: Who sits in the chair, the throne, of our life? Is it our nation? Our community? Our media providers? It is the president? Self? A business corporation? God? Each community, nation, business, or individual has an empty chair at the heart of its existence. The question we must ask is: Who sits in that chair?
“Essentially, my inspiration came from how we as a people come to terms with the city of man versus the city of God. Augustine wrote his classic book The City of God around AD 410, at the heels of Rome’s fall. He gave counsel to Christians by asking, 'Which city do we live for?' In a sense, this is the question I’m asking through Section B, framing it not as a city, but through a chair: the throne of Christ or of man?”
The project evolved over time. Why is that?
“Section B evolved over time because that is how time flows,” Brian answers.
“As funny as it sounds, it takes time for time to pass. So with each unfolding week, a plethora of events transpire: people are born and die; wars happen; tragedy and sorrow occur; nations rise and fall. Within the reality of time there are billions of events that take place, happenings, if you will. Section B is capturing one or two moments of a precise piece of time. But these events are tied to a particular community within a pre-determined framework, in this case Albuquerque, New Mexico December 2010 through June 2011.”
“Though I’m concerned with how time flows, I'm also interested in the events—occurrences within the space of time—that fill up time. And even more profoundly, how these events and occurrences relate to the larger dimension of God’s providence.
“Romans 8:28 states, ‘We know all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’ The concept of 'working together' brings with it the concept of confluence: differing rivers coming together to a larger body of water.
“I suppose Section B is a microscopic study on God’s providence, looking at how God is working in the events of life for His good purposes.
“And as a Christian, I know who sits on the chair of life. And it isn’t me.”
Nancy Reimann is a wife, mother, editor, and writer. She and her husband, Steve, are the parents of six children. She can be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com
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