Cam Zebrun Currents Exhibition
Kolman & Reeb Gallery
Artist’s Talk, February 2, 2023
Introduction by Kenneth Steinbach
Having acquired one of Cam's sculptures a few years ago, and living with it since, I have had the opportunity to think about the work over time, which one of the great advantages of owning art. And while doing some reading during the pandemic, I came across a quote from Ralph Waldo Emmerson that seemed to relate to the work that I own and connects to the artworks in this exhibit as well. In it Emmerson is speculating about the experiencing of seeing the landscape around him.
"The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms."
When looking at Cam's work, this image of the eye and the circle certainly rings true for me. Not only is the circle a motif used in many artworks, but so is the action of viewing the world and one's place within it as well.
Emmerson was part of a group of writers called the transcendentalists, which included Thoreau and others. The transcendentalists were defined by the wonder and awe they saw while viewing nature. Believing that the purest form of understanding we might have about the world was found by examining nature alone in the landscape. Anything that complicated that experience was to be excluded. There is a really great illustration that Emmerson drew related to this, showing a giant eyeball walking around the landscape on two spindly legs and a very proper tailored coat, taking in everything it sees.
The dilemma in Emmerson's quote, however, is that we are far more than just eyeballs floating in space, examining the world from a single point of view. Our eyes are attached to bodies, who relate to the physical world in tactile ways, taking in information as much from our feet, hands and skin as much as our eyes. We do not just see, but respond and remember and carry on conversations with others about what we see. We also understand much about the world beyond what we can see that are known to us through branches of science and history.
Which is where the art of Cam Zebrun begins to get really interesting. For while he does indeed look at the circular world around us with the awe and wonder found in a western perspective, he does not limit himself to this way alone. Unsatisfied with a single way of seeing, the artworks in this exhibit borrow liberally, both in terms of imagery and visual devices, from the fields expand far beyond what we can see and know from direct observation. of history, cartography, science and photography, using those technologies to
And while his methods, sources and visual devices are decidedly his own, the expansive ways in which Cam's artwork explores the landscape relate to other cultural traditions as well. One sees a kinship in these works with the nautical stick and rope maps of Micronesia, or Inuit maps made of carved wood are used to navigate across ocean waters. Both of which define tactile ways of relating to the landscape. Or even aboriginal Australian works in which the landscape is interpreted as a form of song. Cam's works functions in similar ways, capturing a truer relationship to the landscape that we acquire when we travel across it and live upon it as physical beings. The artworks relate to the experience of being atop the earth, not as a disembodied eye, but in the way they orient us to the landscape in its entirety. The works act simultaneously as maps, abstracted spaces, slices of the landscapes themselves, and yes, forms of Western observation. The layers of interwoven complexities we experience in the works are deeply satisfying, as they connect us to the landscape in a more fully authentic way.