Student resilience in the “Art of Conservation”


Out of the mouths of babes is a phrase that comes to mind at the Vineyard Conservation Society’s (VCS) newest exhibition, “Resilience.” The show is the result of an annual student art and writing contest relating to conservation and the environment. The students’ impressive reflections are on view through June 9 at the Feldman Family Artspace, curated by Featherstone Center for the Arts at the M.V. Film Center.

VCS launched the “Art of Conservation” contest in 2014 to provide students with the space and support to contemplate and respond to environmental issues through creative expression. This year’s theme, resilience, prompted Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School artists and writers to think of ways in which nature is resilient, is challenged by human factors, and how it serves to nurture our own resilience.

The staff took students on field trips to the head of the Lagoon as initial inspiration. Some went out on their own as well. Outside judges from the art, writing, and conservation community selected winners among the 82 artworks and some 20 written pieces. An essential goal of the endeavor is to introduce VCS to students, and discuss the Island’s conservation issues. “Often,” says executive director Samantha Look, “they are hearing in the news about environmental challenges that are out there in the world. But the contest makes them aware of what we are looking at here. And for VCS, this is an incredible opportunity to hear from different voices.”

The diversity of the artwork and poetry reveals their keen eye in noting details we might ordinarily miss. Such is the case with Natalya DaSilva’s alluring photograph, “The Lost Piece.” In this large, extreme, close-up, a small, single feather, rather than a whole bird, sits tentatively on a bare branch. She poignantly writes, “A piece of the bird hadn’t made it to its destination.”

Broden Vincent’s photograph “Get Me Outta Here” captures an unusual perspective on resilience. Leaves sprout from the ground, but some tips are caught under the bottom of the high school’s gym doors. Vincent says that although it’s fairly common to see plants grow through asphalt or other unlikely places, it is uncommon to see them do so where there is so much foot traffic.

In her photo collage, “Perseverance in Bloom,” Sylvia Carroll places a tree and road sign imprinted with the phrase “Dangerous Intersection” side by side. The Statue of Liberty emerges from a giant wave, with a surfer rushing toward us and a looming, cratered moon above. Carroll writes, “I hope to portray how nature is strong, and it grows and flourishes around the manmade structures that, although harmful to nature, are able to have resilience and prosper.”

Light pours down on an abandoned bright pink car, slowly engulfed by foliage, in Audrey Atkins’ dramatic night scene, aptly titled “Temporary.” Stumbling upon the scene, she says, “It reminded me of the resilience of the Vineyard, by how nature is so strong that it can almost completely decompose something made to be so strong and indestructible.”

In Camille Gagou’s detailed line drawing, “Wait for Your Turn,” a woman is throat-bound to a stake. The forest and the woman’s dress become one. Her face reveals pain. Gagou writes:

“I wanted to represent the suffering of nature caused by humans. They kill animals, sell them, destroy forests, divert rivers, all for money. As if it were all just a game. When all the resources of a place are depleted, it no longer has market value in their eyes, and is left to be abandoned for whoever wants it. But whatever form it takes, the Earth will always be there. Humans are slowly destroying themselves, while nature is resilient. It’s not Earth that is in danger; it is our children. But isn’t that somewhat deserved?”

In Angelica MacFarlane’s playful photograph, “Potted Plants,” we look down at a withered honeycomb nestled among dead, brown leaves, with two tiny plants pushing up through the holes. She writes, “Coming across this scene in nature was powerful … Had I not been looking … I would’ve missed this spectacular exhibition of resilience in nature … Nature is powerful, and looking to it for inspiration is one of the best things humans can do.”

Reflecting on the powerful exhibit, Look says, “I hope people come away with incredible respect for the quality of what the students did, seeing and feeling what they’re feeling about what we are doing to our world. And that people walk away a little bit chastened, and inspired to pick up the work these kids are laying out.”