Good Life Tour of the Harn By Nikki Rutkowski

An Introduction to the Harn

When I arrived at UF as a freshman, something I heard time and time again from my more seasoned peers was that I needed to check out the Harn Museum. Before moving to Gainesville, I lived near Tampa, Florida, a hub of art and culture littered with museums and exhibits. Finally getting an opportunity to take the advice of these students was incredibly exciting and gave me a chance to step out of the college-centered life I had built here. Taking some time to appreciate fine art through this Good Life assignment was more of a privileged than a mandatory task.

Medium of the Art / Technique of the Artist

Upon entering the Harn, a small room in the middle of the first exhibit drew my attention. My small party of four and I went to investigate the work, and were surprised to come across a darkly lit room with one seat and a projection. It contrasted sharply with the rest of the pieces, most of which were paintings or sculptures. The work itself was titled Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) by Martha Rosler, and it commented on the feminist movements of the 1970s. Art is all about getting across a message and evoking emotion in people. The use of video as an artistic platform already gave Rosler's work an edge, drawing more attention through its use of eye-catching movement and sound. The commentary could not have been as successful as a picture, watching her movements grow progressively more aggressive was something that could only be captured with a video. In a world being quickly dominated by an electronic platform, video is no new phenomenon. However, seeing the piece in person allowed me to stop and actually focus on the piece rather than glance and scroll to the next video. The impact of the message was so much deeper as a result.

Design of the Museum

The northern wings of the museum were all similar in their architecture, except for the soft color of the walls, separating them by region. However, the architecture changed in the exhibit about American abstract art. The layout was smaller, but far more open. This setup was particularly appealing to me because it drew more focus to each piece on its own, rather than feeling like all of the works were just one example in a mass of similar pieces. The use of lighting also helped each artwork to stand on its own and solidify its independent qualities. It felt far less reliant on an overall theme, and let each piece speak for itself. I felt as though the design of the exhibit contributed to the theme as well. Abstract art by nature deviates from more traditional styles, which was mimicked perfectly in the use of a more open and divergent architecture style.

Art and Core Values

The feminist movement has always been at the forefront of my values as our society continues to fight for equal civil rights for all genders. As a result, I was quickly drawn to the feminist artist Justine Kurland. Her work Mama Baby, Tidal Pools, Trinadad, California (2007) depicts a peaceful scene, one of community and safety and tranquility. These women were all naked, a scene that has become both taboo and hyper-sexualized in today's modern world. These women do not conform to these ideas. They are confident and comfortable, relaxed and unbothered. There is no fear of condemnation or judgement or harm, there is no reservation regarding how the world will react to their exposed natural form. This world depicts a utopia of safety and comfort. I felt hopeful looking at it, knowing there is a community supporting this idea of a safe world for women, and it reinforced my feminist ideals. It once again depicted the society we are fighting for, the society we want to achieve.

Art and the Good Life

Off to one side of an exhibit stood this robe-like garment. After reading the description it was revealed that it is a Woman's Wedding Ensemble (asherab nabuak). The outfit is one worn by newly married women in Siwa Oasis, the Western Desert of Egypt. It immediately struck me as a representation of Celebrating the Good Life. Different ceremonies, such as marriage celebrations, are common ways to celebrate the good life that can be found all over the world. The outfit symbolically represents the marriage and by extension the celebration. The ceremony in Siwa Oasis is a seven day event, which commemorates and honors the family, the couple, and their new life together. Taking time to observe and praise these checkpoints in one's life is essential to attaining and understanding the Good Life.

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