Bekah Alviani Returns Home to Unveil Gallery of Abandoned Mining Town
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) — Artist and Clarion native, Bekah Alviani, is returning home to Clarion to showcase an art installation that reflects the environment of an abandoned town in Armstrong County.
The abandoned mining community of Yellow Dog Village, which is located in Worthington, PA, is the heart of the installation, titled “Transience,” which opens on September 6 and run through February 24 of next year in the Carlson Library University Art Gallery on the campus of Pennsylvania Western University at Clarion.
Yellow Dog Village was first established in the late 1800s as a mining town where miners extricated limestone and iron. The mining companies built housing for the workers and their families in exchange for a promise from the workers that they would never unionize.
A “yellow dog contract” refers to an agreement between an employer and an employee in which the worker agrees not to be a member of a labor union. Thus, the naming of the village.
In the 2000s the water in the village became contaminated and was completely abandoned in 2010. Now, memories of the village are fading.
Alviani became aware of the location and its history through Facebook groups that share the interest of abandoned towns.
As a veteran photographer and professor of art at Brevard College in North Carolina, Alviani refers to herself as a “lens based artist.”
“Everything that I do starts within the scope of a camera lens,” said Alviani.
For this particular multimedia installation there are digital photographs, as big as two by three foot pieces, all made in Yellow Dog Village, hung on the wall and displayed on the floor. These photographs have been intentionally deteriorated and gone through a weathering process which took weeks.
“The print is made on paper and then the paper is then wheat pasted onto large pieces of plywood,” said Alviani.
“The pieces on the floor are being displayed with dry leaves and a bunch of old carpet that has been stained and intentionally weathered, and audio is played throughout the installation as well.”
Alviani said the paper is affixed to the plywood before it goes through a weathering and deterioration process, where she sets it outdoors and leaves it to the elements for a minimum of 2 weeks.
When visitors walk through the exhibit they will hear recorded interviews with Joe Meyer and Jeff Clinton.
“Joe is the owner of the property that the remaining Yellow Dog Village sits on, and he gave me access to work with and within the community,” said Alviani.
“Jeff, at one point, lived near the community before it was abandoned.”
“I chose to interview and record both of these men to better understand the village and the situation surrounding its abandonment. After the interviews were completed, I felt their words were essential for viewers to also understand the community and the work I made.”
In addition to the interviews, Alviani included audio she recorded while visiting the village.
“The nature sounds are the sounds of Yellow Dog Village itself,” said Alviani. “I recorded that audio during my multiple visits to the community, both inside and outside of the homes.”
Alviani also described the show as “an exploration of objecthood and object memory.”
“Objecthood” is a term used in the art world, coined as a description of modern art while “object memory” is a phrase coined by Alviani herself which she said “refers to specific emotions, feelings, and memories that are tied closely to an object that is tied to a specific or unique event.”
Alviani graduated from Clarion Area High School in 2007 and her parents still live in the area today. However, her earlier years were filled with moving from place to place.
“I had a transient upbringing growing up, and that’s why objects are so important to me, because for me home is in objects… I made seven moves in 14 years to six different states, so home was literally the objects I took from house to house.”
Read Alviani’s artist statement for “Transience” below:
“Everything counts – not as part of the object, but as part of the situation in which its objecthood is established…”
When I think of the term “transient” I think of it as meaning to move quickly, to be unable to remain stationary. The actual definition according to Oxford is, “lasting only for a short time; impermanent.” Given these definitions it seems I had a transient upbringing resulting in seven moves in a fourteen-year period to six continental states. I remember “home” being within the belongings that my family and I took from physical property to property. For me home was held within these objects – it still is. These reflections have led me to a new understanding of my upbringing and the way objects have shaped it. These understandings lead me to Yellow Dog Village.
Yellow Dog Village has a unique history with an unfortunate ending: total abandonment in 2010 due to contaminated water sources. Community members were given 48 hours to vacate the small town. Some chose to collect all their belongings and leave their home in clean condition. Others left multiple belongings that included furniture, clothing, children’s toys, even family photographs. Because of how meaningful objects are in my life, I couldn’t fathom abandoning personal items for outsiders to come and scrutinize.
So, I became the outsider and traveled over 2,300 miles to make four visits in six months to Yellow Dog. I developed a relationship with the homes and objects left within them in an attempt to understand why they were left. I wondered, had the owners emotionally outgrown them? In the wake of such trauma, why were these things suddenly deemed unimportant? Were the objects’ memories tainted by the eviction of the community?
Through the documentation of this community’s objects and the recreation of physical aspects of Yellow Dog itself, I aim to create a participatory experience which encourages viewers to engage with the work at the floor level, such as how I encountered many of the objects within the village. I intend to guide viewers in understanding the village, as well as find meaning within concepts of objecthood and object memory: memories that individuals associate with a specific object or similar objects that are tied closely to a unique event. I hope to share the emotional and sensory experience I have had with the village with viewer-participants because doing so may foster reconnections with object memory.
After high school, Alviani graduated from Oakbridge Academy of Arts (which closed in 2013) with her Associate Degree in Specialized Technology in 2012. Prior to graduation, Alviani moved to New York City to do an internship with Inked magazine.
She then received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Clarion University (now Pennsylvania Western University at Clarion) in 2015 with minor in art history and marketing. Most recently, she completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in digital art in 2021 at Bowling Green State University.
The tactile nature of “Transience” is reflected in Alviani’s goal for the show.
“My whole goal with this exhibition is taking the experience that I had and sharing it with viewers,” siad Alviani. “I actually refer to my audience as ‘viewer participants’ because I want them to engage with the work.”
Alviani looks forward to her work being close to home.
“I am very excited to have this work shown in Pennsylvania,” said Alviani. “It deserves to finally be home, near the area where it was made,” said Alviani.
The artist Lecture and reception event will be held on October 18 at 4:00 p.m. at the Carlson Library University Art Gallery.
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