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I Cannot Heave My Heart Into My Mouth

“Borders” by Michael Brohman draws inspiration from the liberation of Auschwitz.
Photo: Samantha Camp · The Sentry

Emmanuel Gallery opened the new semester with an extensive exhibition of artwork by CU Denver faculty from the College of Arts & Media, titled I Cannot Heave My Heart Into My Mouth. Given the diverse backgrounds of the faculty, there is a broad range of media in the show, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photography, videos, virtual reality, and art history publications. 

Upon entering the gallery, an imposing sculpture created by visual arts professor Michael Brohman establishes a barrier with the rest of the gallery. Viewers are forced to confront the wall and move around it to access the rest of the exhibition. According to Brohman, he took inspiration from images of the liberation of Auschwitz. By creating a mass of ambiguous figures closely standing together, the artwork brings attention to the collective strength of people. “Borders” becomes especially relevant given the ongoing crisis at the U.S. southern border.  

Many of his artworks explore cultural landscapes and belief systems of different people, as in the piece “Do White People Have Their Own Separate Heavens?”  Similar to the “combine” style (art that has a flat surface along with a range of three-dimensional objects) of artworks by Robert Rauschenberg, a groundbreaking pop artist who gained recognition in the 1950s, Brohman incorporates sculptural elements with a primarily two-dimensional surface hanging on the wall.  

Juxtaposing two real human skulls against two square panels of cowhide, one black and the other white, this work explores the complexities of race relations. When conceptualizing this work, he considered whether discrimination continues after death. Viewers are confronted with deciding which role they play in a colonialist society. In the future, Brohman plans to have isotopic analyses to determine “exactly the location that these individuals came from, and the time period they came from, just based upon the residue in their teeth,” so he can eventually produce facial reconstructions. 

In a somewhat different direction, the artwork of fellow sculpture professor Rian Kerrane explores the roles people play at home in her piece “The Princess and the Pea.” Assembled with stacked and neon-painted palettes, old ironing boards, and lace doilies, the work brings together industrial and domestic symbols. At the top of the pillar rests a small teacup, symbolizing “those moments of happiness or pleasure or relaxation that we strive for,” according to Kerrane.  

 Emmanuel Gallery is a unique space in that it has a second floor overlooking the rest of the gallery, so she intended the installation to engage with the site from different perspectives. In discussing the symbolism behind it, Kerrane said, “I am often exploring the role of the women in my life…You’re always working, you’re always industrial. It’s hard, it’s like a construction site, right? The house.”  

On the other side of “The Princess and the Pea” is another piece of artwork, referred to by Kerrane as a diorama. Visual arts professor Melissa Furness contributed her skillful style by painting an elaborate pile of trash, cut out from the canvas and placed on the floor beneath iron mops, dishware, and other ornaments. Kerrane and Furness have also collaborated in the past on other works, such as The Other, recently on display at K Contemporary. 

Bringing together artists and art historians from a variety of disciplines, Emmanuel Gallery presents a though-provoking exhibition.  

I Cannot Heave My Heart Into My Mouth will be on display until February 19. 

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