The Art of the Collective Consciousness

Much has been written about Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a belief that all humans share a collective ancestral knowledge and imagery described as archetypes. After living through 2020, it seems that artists have pinpointed new beliefs held within the collective unconscious. The Dorsky Museum organized the exhibit “Collective Consciousness” inviting guest curator Karlyn Benson to select new work from SUNY New Paltz art faculty. Like nearly everyone, during 2020 the art faculty needed to reinvent how they could continue the semester for the students, while they also continued with their own art practice. This exhibit shows that even as they all were forced to work in isolation, their recent work references the collective concerns about urgent matters such as climate change and societal disruption through technology.

Digital design and fabrication is featured in the “Collective Consciousness” exhibit as seen here in #15 by Aaron Nelson. Photo by Linda Marston-Reid

Aaron Nelson explores the importance that technology holds in our world. As we remember the place that twitter took in the past year, his “Project #15” created from a 3-D printer and energized by Python code feels ominously prescient. Programmed to search for tweets that contain racial slurs, it finds and then prints them out on a small thermal printer. Bryan Czibesc creates artworks from a process that includes tereophotogrammetric 3-D scan of photographs and a 3-D printer that extrudes the clay. The finished objects allude to the handmade, with glazing and imperfections of the human hand.

Anat Shiftan produces ceramics that reference still life seen throughout western art history. For instance, in “Still Life in Yellow with Branches and Fruit” you can observe the stylized shape of the fruits, as well as the subdued colors and glazing. The object has a singular beauty, but similar to greenhouse-grown and waxed fruit from the grocery store, not really from nature.

Anat Shiftan exhibits “Still Life in Yellow with Branches and Fruit, a sculptural ceramic still life. Photo courtesy Anat Shiftan.

Several of the artists work in a collective process, as seen in Emily Puthoff’s Hudson Valley Bee Habitat, also an organization she co-founded with artists Elena Sniezek and Jen Woodin. Their mission states: “As artists, designers, and mindful educators, we leverage our creativity to engage communities in the co-design and co-creation of public pollinator sculptures and gardens.” The wall-hung sculptures are hexagonal shaped boxes with laser-cut steel garden images: if you peer inside you will see a built structure designed for bees to utilize as hives.

Matthew Friday is part of a collaborative group, SPURSE, that is “guided by a strong interest in aesthetics, as both a means to re-sensitize people to the world they are of, and as a technique of assembling new material and social configurations.” The featured project on exhibit, “Future Waters Santy Boat,” shows the process beginning with drawings and the design plan to the building of a pontoon houseboat that will traverse waterways with a goal to regenerates ecology. 

Michael Asbill’s project, “Facsimile,” is a process-driven work that will take thousands of hours and ultimately demonstrate the importance of guarding our natural resources. In Asbill’s statement about the piece he explains, “Through this slow action, I’m attempting to restore my diminishing ties to the miraculous world that humanity is breaking.”    

Michael Asbill’s “Facsimile” at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Michael Asbill.

Exhibited artists: Robin Arnold, Michael Asbill, Lynn Batchelder, Bryan Czibesz, Aurora De Armendi, James Fossett, Andrea Frank, Matthew Friday, Anne Galperin, Kathy Goodell, Andrea Kantrowitz, Rena Leinberger, Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, Aaron Nelson, Itty S. Neuhaus, Jill Parisi-Phillips, Emily Puthoff, Nadia Sablin, Anat Shiftan, Suzanne Stokes and Cheryl Wheat.

Collective Consciousness: New Work by SUNY New Paltz Art Faculty is on view through April 11, 2021 in the Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery and North Gallery. COVID-19 health safety measures are observed.

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is located at SUNY New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz. 

Museum Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, holidays, and intersessions. For more information about The Dorsky Museum and its programs, visit or call (845) 257-3844.

This article originally appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal Lifestyle on February 15, 2021.

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