February 18, 2018
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Nature photography

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

Sometimes, there’s something delightful about incongruity. Not the kind that’s jarring to the eye or ear; rather, the kind that trades in smart, creative juxtapositions. The kind that makes you think.

So if you walk down the shady, windblown path that runs parallel to the shoreline at Lamoine State Park this month, be prepared for some incongruous sights. The candy-colored outline of an iPod; a row of bright yellow dump trucks; the nighttime view of a cityscape.

They’re photographs, of course, and all part of Project Pathology, a photographic installation by students at the University of Maine at Augusta that has been touring state parks and outdoor areas around the state all summer. It is installed at Lamoine State Park through Sept. 7; it previously visited Moose Point State Park in Searsport and the Pine Tree State Arboretum in Augusta.

“It was originally a project for my students,” said Robert Rainey, a professor of art at UMA and the project’s coordinator. “It was our attempt to answer the question, ‘What is public art?’ with the eventual intention of actually having it installed somewhere in public sight.”

Thanks to a grant from the Harry Faust Art Fund, part of the Maine Arts Commission, the 12 students involved in the project were able to have their photographs printed on heavy-duty canvas and mounted on copper spikes. The plan then was to find some public venues for those photographs — 100 pictures in all, with two on each canvas.

The idea of putting it in state parks came naturally — though they contain some of the most spectacular scenes of natural beauty in Maine, few if any art exhibits have ever been installed in any of them.

“Everyone goes to Acadia, but not as many go to our state parks, which are just as beautiful and accessible,” said Rainey. “Everyone in the Maine [Bureau of Parks and Lands] has been incredibly welcoming and excited to do this. And it’s such a wonderful way to spotlight our state parks.”

Both the state and national park systems have been in the spotlight recently — Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” will be shown on PBS this fall. Bringing more people into public lands is the idea behind Partners in the Park, a national program for honors students at colleges and universities across the country. For 10 days, mostly in the summer, students in every field of study are brought into parks all over the United States, for interdisciplinary learning and workshops.

For the second year in a row, Acadia National Park and several surrounding state parks are hosting a Partners in the Park group. Last week the eight students, who hail from Florida, Texas and Illinois, among other states, installed Project Pathology at Lamoine, Throughout their stay in Maine, the students will visit parks and work with professors in fields as diverse as English, ecology, astronomy, art, archaeology and architecture.

Joan Digby, a professor of English at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y., founded Partners in the Park three years ago.

“I asked my students how many had actually been to a national park,” said Digby, who was on hand during the installation of Project Pathology. “Out of 40, only three had. The next year, I took some students to Fire Island State Park and to Ellis Island. The following year, we had six more programs, including Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon and Acadia. It’s grown very quickly.”

One of the Partners in the Park participants was a UMA student — Juste Gatari, an architecture major originally from Kigali, Rwanda.

“I came to Maine in the middle of winter last year, so I was really looking forward to summer,” said Gatari. “I had never been to the coast before this. It’s beautiful. I understand why people talk about it so much. I think doing something like this, with art and putting it in public, has given me a new appreciation for how you can use space, and how people relate to space. I think that’s important for any architect.”

Though Gatari did not work on Project Pathology, the collaboration between the UMA student-created Project Pathology and the Partners in the Park program touched on similar ideas — appreciation of nature, the use of public spaces and how art fits into all of that.

“[My students] learned how to apply for grants, how to curate a show, and how to create public art,” said Rainey. “It’s great artist’s training that you don’t often get in an academic setting. And the Partners in the Park students get to learn some of that as well.”

Once Project Pathology is taken down on Sept. 7, though, the student photographers will receive their work back. It’s not meant to be a permanent installation.

“It’s like a Christo installation,” said Rainey, referring to the installation artist who has assembled large-scale, temporary exhibits in places such as New York City and Sydney, Australia. “Once it’s done, it’s done. That’s part of the experience.”

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