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Sante Fe artist brings out the "joy" in quiet art installation in Williamsport

A New Mexico native artist brings "Joy of Nothing" to a new art installation in Williamsport.

Phoenix Savage, an artist of many mediums, including sculpture and photography, has a new visual art installation at the Lycoming College Art Gallery. The exhibit, “The Joy of Nothing,” features four looping videos meant to spark contemplation for the viewers. Each of the quiet videos consist of flowing wheat grass, tree branches, roaming buffalo and images of dried flowers.

“‘The Joy of Nothing’ brings about the question of contemplation — the contemplation of nothingness, not stressing, not thinking about tomorrow’s exams or research papers or wars or anything that freaks and stresses us out. If we just took a minute to engage in the space of nothingness, and how joyful that could possibly be for people,” she explained.

Lycoming College art students spoke to Savage about the images. Students found the work meditative, leaving a different impression than the artwork from previous galleries they visited.

“She touches on the joy of nothing, and there is a lack of sound that I think is what makes it incredibly meditative. It is definitely a different kind of art than what most people would expect when you go to a gallery... It’s rare in western culture where we really slow down and have no thoughts, no noises and no distractions. It’s a nice invitation into a space that might not be familiar,” said Lycoming College senior and art student Alexa Dergarabedian.

The exhibit is the first installation where Savage produced video work. Photography is a recurring medium for the artist, who recently relocated to Sante Fe, taking in the imagery of the local nature.

“It is no longer just making an object or sculpting or building installations that are usually very tactile. I am re-embracing my love for photography, but still am rediscovering it,” Savage said.

Though photography/visual art has been her medium of choice, “thinking” is her primary medium.

“Thinking is my primary medium of art. I know that sounds strange, but I really value that and try to incorporate that when I’m teaching classes — to get students to understand the value of thoughts and how one can incorporate thought as a medium,” Savage explained.

Beyond using thought in art, sculpting has been her most prominent mainstay.

“I like sculptures, I like things, I like making things,” Savage said. “Even when I was previously doing photography, I was printing them in a way in which the elements were three dimensional or gave the effect to the printed image. I think I was always engaging with that object or that thought in the background.”

Previously, Savage was an associate professor of art, teaching at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and she also taught an experimental sculpture class at Brown University during the last six years. She holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in sculpture and two additional graduate degrees in anthropology and art history, along with two undergraduate degrees in photography and advertising design.

Now, no longer associated with a university, she is still teaching. Currently, Savage has designed a protocol for women inmates at one of the state prisons in Sante Fe — teaching them to be peer-to-peer instructors for meditation, mindfulness and yoga.

“That is where I am extending my teaching chops these days… It’s a minimum-security women’s prison and inmates and inmates learn to go through six to nine weeks of training. They are then able to teach classes in the gym,” Savage said.

Inmates are able to teach up to three times a week in the program. Once their sentences are up, they are certified and able to offer their skills in their communities. Though a fledgling program in its second year, Savage said inmates are able to discover more about themselves for the better.

“They can see if this paradigm reduces recidivism — long-term process to see whether it helps or not,” she said.

Savage will have an upcoming group art show at the end of the summer at the Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. She is currently working on a sculpture made up of different components. The piece will depict a conglomerate of human sized ears reminiscent of herds of buffalo that frequent the landscapes of New Mexico. For more information on Savage’s current and upcoming works, visit her website at https://www.phoenixsavage.com/home.

Savage’s exhibit is on display through March 24 at the art gallery, open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m.

Chase Bottorf is a graduate of Lock Haven University and holds a bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in writing. Having previously been a reporter for the Lock Haven news publication, The Express, he is aware of the unique issues in the Lycoming County region, and has ties to the local communities.

The Lycoming County reporter position is funded by the Williamsport Lycoming Competitive Grant Program at the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.

You can email Chase at chasebottorf@wvia.org