Works by Thomas Ferrella
Artists’ Books from Special Collections, UW-Milwaukee Libraries
Curated by Pamela Caserta Hugdahl

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Campus, September 12 – October 10, 2016
Exhibition and catalogue [] made possible by the Jeffrey R. Hayes Graduate
Research Award granted through the Department of Art History, and by Jan Serr and John Shannon

This exhibition evades conventional boundaries of galleries in order to present artists’ books in their intended manner and to display Ferrella’s outdoor installations in context with UWM’s award-winning sustainability initiatives. The results exemplify how we shape earth and in turn how our actions upon earth impact us, emphasizing human interdependence on fragile ecosysytems. Ferrella’s artwork and medical expertise in combination with the content in the artist’s books and UWM sustainablity initatives argue for a holistic approach to environmentalism that is yet to be embraced by much of the world’s human population.

Perhaps the most visible of the four installations that Ferrella presents in this exhibit,What Shapes Us consists of over 1300 debarked dried Sandbar Willow branches arranged in a close configuration, forming curves, waves and passageways. This 100’ long sculpture represents wind, water and time and how these factors shape our environment and us. This installation incorporates a twisting double helix formation with a small fracture visible depicting our inherent flaws as humans.

Nestled in the campus “Spiral Garden”, Ferrella placed a sign that reads “imagine”. This sign comes from Ferrella’s larger state-wide installation titled Drift. Each dimunitive, reclaimed lumber sign in the series is engraved with a different single word that can be associated with the location where it is posted. The guerilla-like placement of these signs is intended to  be very informal, often disregarding land ownership or ordinances.

The installation receiving the most foot traffic is What We Shape. These 25 sidewalk-based organically-pigmented stencils bear the names of Wisconsin endangered and invasive species, which disappear with the wind and rain, emphasizing their ephemeral nature. However it is the foot traffic over the names of the species that evoke the most poignant message of what we shape and what shapes us.

The foundation for Ferrella’s three outdoor installations is his painting entitled Endangered Wisconsin displayed at the Golda Meir Libary during the exhibition. This painting is a series of seventeen small, individual oil paintings on wood panels depicting endangered species in Wisconsin.