2008-07-24 / Arts / Zest
'Road Shrines: A Peripheral Blur'
You've seen them and wondered - or you've passed them with a chill. Road shrines seem to have proliferated over the past few years.
The flow of traffic, the elements of rain, snow and wind, even local ordinances cause them to eventually disappear.
Lake Como artist Pamela Flynn has spent more than six years studying several local road shrines. She's made works of art about the shrines, and those works are currently on display at the Center for the Visual Arts Gallery at Brookdale Community College.
Flynn is a professor of art at Holy Family University in northeast Philadelphia. She wanted to exhibit her artworks based on these shrines in a public gallery located nearby the road shrines and so approached the art faculty at Brookdale Community College.
"Road Shrines: A Peripheral Blur" has not been seen as a group prior to this show, but one piece had been included in the competitive drawing show "Making Marks" last winter. The entire exhibition will travel for one year after this show closes.
The impetus for this project came out of several quick, blurry, passing views. The artist then went back and studied shrines found on intermediate roads in Freehold and Colts Neck, along the Garden State Parkway and Routes 18 and 33.
"As I was driving I would see them - I wasn't looking for them - I just saw them when I was on the way to something or somewhere. Some were very elaborate and some were just a marker," Flynn said recently.
"I didn't know anything about the accidents; these were just in my peripheral vision as I was driving. The project had to do with someone leaving a marker."
"One that touched me just said, "Mom." To leave that one marker that just said that one word - that was powerful," she said. Certainly, the theme has a resonance for many of us and could easily spark an interest and discussion among students from across campus, so the Art Department unanimously approved her request several months ago and the work has recently been installed prominently in the CVA Gallery.
The regimented installation by Len Klekner, adjunct professor in art history, seems as austere and respectful as Arlington Cemetery. In contrast, the soft colors and peculiar motifs are enigmatic and oddly compelling.
"What she's doing is she's taking something ugly - death - and turning it into something beautiful. She's showing you a beautiful landscape. She's turned the whole thing into art," said Megan Kelly, of Middletown, administrative assistant in the Arts and Communication Division Office.
"What I loved about the installation was the flow from one piece to the next," said Sandy Johanson, of Tinton Falls, learning assistant in the photography area of the Art Department.
"The way they're grouped - each one has some sort of marking from the previous one, yet each one individually is amazing," she said. "The color, the form, they carry you along like a road trip. You stop and take a look at something fascinating."
Funded by a grant from The Puffin Foundation, this project met that organization's mission "To continue the dialogue between art and the lives of ordinary people."
In her 2004 grant proposal Flynn wrote:
"I have been taking digital pictures of New Jersey road shrines for the last two years (11-09-02 was the first picture). I will make
images that are respectful artistic reflections on and of these road shrines.
"I will exhibit these images in New Jersey. I will invite the family and friends of the individuals that the shrines are in memory of, to the opening. I will donate the respective art works to the family and friends of the individuals that the shrines are in memory of, at the close of the exhibition.
"These images will be generated by the shrines that were made by someone other than myself and by my conscious effort to make images that will immortalize the shrines. This is an interesting convoluted process: to celebrate the object that is itself a celebration," Flynn wrote.
"The art cannot be - and is not - a celebration of the person killed, since other than what the shrine provides, I have no insight into that person or the accident," she wrote. "I only have the efforts of someone to mark
the spot and celebrate someone's
life/death. It is from this space Township"
that I begin my project."