BRATTLEBORO—Vermont artist Mary Admasian can imagine people grumbling when they discover that she has created Weighted Tears, a new outdoor sculpture for the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center: “Not that again: I am so over barbed wire.”
Weighted Tears consists of five teardrop-shaped objects suspended from the eaves of the museum. Each object is made of aluminum rods, wire, and barbed wire, and is stabilized by a spherical weight. The smallest object has a light that will be kept illuminated 24 hours a day as a symbol of hope during difficult times.
Admasian need not have worried about being passé. Through her artistry, she has taken a perhaps familiar medium and has used it in a new and exciting way.
Then again, Admasian has long reinvigorated old forms.
As BMAC Chief Curator Mara Williams writes on the museum’s website, “Exploiting the constraining property of barbed wire as a unifying metaphor, Admasian repurposes materials like fencing, willow switches, logs, butterflies, rooster feathers, and other found objects collected from flea markets and the rural Vermont landscape to create sculptures, public installations, and assemblages that address how societal and psychological restraints both contain and free us.”
Admasian adds, “By transforming common and found materials into conceptually stimulating images, I want my work to create a narrative that provokes insight, thought, and social awareness in the viewer.”
Nature and society
Created specifically for outdoor exhibition at BMAC with the support of a partial grant from the Arts Endowment Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation, Weighted Tears is a work in Admasian’s series of sculptures entitled “Boundaries, Balance, and Confinement: Navigating the Elements of Nature and Society.”
The outdoor sculpture and other selections from the series will be on view in BMAC’s East Gallery from June 23 until Oct. 8.
A multidisciplinary artist, Admasian’s work has been exhibited nationally and in the collections of colleges, institutions, and prominent art collectors. She has received two fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, and she has also created site-specific work and installations in collaboration with other artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers.
She earned a BFA from Colby-Sawyer College with honors in painting, and has worked as an artist, curator, marketing and brand communications consultant, and creative director for the visual and performing arts.
Although she has lived most of her adult life in Vermont, Admasian is originally from Detroit, of Armenian, Italian and Irish descent.
“We were a family of immigrants, which played an important role in who I am,” she says.
Admasian has exhibited often in northern Vermont around her home base in East Montpelier, but she has never before had a show in the southern part of the state. “I don’t know why but there seems to be a strong invisible line that bisects the state,” she says.
Even so, Williams says she had been following Admasian’s work for a long time.
“When Mara offered me this exhibition at BMAC, I was beyond thrilled,” Admasian confesses. “I feel honored and lucky, especially to have pieces inside and outside the museum.”
A site-specific work
In addition to her exhibition in the gallery, Williams asked Admasian to create a new work specifically for its outdoor sculpture garden at BMAC.
“Mara said I could do most anything, but I had to tie it into the space,” Admasian said.
Weighted Tears is hung from the eaves of the entrance to the museum, situated high for safety’s sake. “We needed to keep away from danger, and so it was hung high enough that people couldn’t swing on it,” Admasian says.
Initially, Admasian’s concept for the outdoor sculpture was to highlight the history of the museum as a railroad station. But she admits that the original idea morphed into something quite different.
“In Weighted Tears, I deal with cultural identity, using the medium of barbed wire,” she explains. “Through barbed wire I explore what lies beneath the surface. I had the conception and rendered it before Trump got elected, but the work does reflect the politics of our current moment.
“It could not be a more perfect piece for now. I am always working with the struggle within groups of people, which has inspired the work I do. I am a political person, so it is reflected in my work.”
Handcrafting the sculpture into shape, and then having it powder coated, Admasian was relieved that the outdoor sculpture came out the way she wanted.
“However carefully you plan you never can be sure how the actual work will look when completed,” she says. “But I am happy. The color blue of the sculpture is shimmery, making the piece sparkling but not tacky. The wire looks wet, and has subtle color variations and at times you can pick up hints of red. The color was a bit different than I had imagined, but it is still fine. The total effect is like metal water.”
Vitally concerned with the concept of light as energy, Admasian also struggled to illuminate Weighted Tears correctly.
“I love working with shadows, so I do like to use lighting effects in my work,” she says. “I wanted the piece to be bright, yet to keep the lights themselves small enough to be concealed. LED works nicely because it can light well but is not clunky. Of course, many will see the sculpture during the day, but it is going to be extra spectacular in the dark evening, when Weighted Tears will really shimmer. The effect should be subtle but powerful.”
Finding her focus
Admasian has worked as an artist her entire adult life, but in the past ten years she claims that she has been able to take “things to a higher level.”
“Now with time to devote to it and my life experiences to enrich it, I can make the work I always wanted to make,” she confesses. “Several years ago I had a life-changing experience, a severe concussion, which made me consider that if I died tomorrow what would I wish I had accomplished. And the answer turned out to be simple: the work I am doing now.”
Admasian works not only in sculpture, but also with assemblages, found objects, painting, and printmaking.
“In the last few years I have even begun to paint on birch wood,” she says. “This work reflects my interest in climate change, and in the broader dynamics between nature and society. I am always exploring our physiological constraints, but I do it in a unusual way, to see how they can free us, if we take them to heart and try to live with them. I believe that refocusing a viewer’s vision is what an artist should do.”
Although Admasian proudly calls herself an artist, the word has broad meaning for her.
“A person can be an artist doing anything,” she says “Gardening, cooking food, making friends are also my art. I am sorry for people who don’t have a creative outlet. I have always been fascinated with the human condition. I don’t write, but if I did, I see myself writing crazy novels about the world around us.”