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Nancy Sevier's Musical Found Sculpture from the Monterey Herald, 9/18/22

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been both a listener to and a maker of stories. The human mind and heart are drawn to story not only because they entertain and beguile us but because stories help us cope with what we don’t understand, what overwhelms or frightens. Making stories deepen our understanding of our lives, gives us a format through which to question and answer, helping us to integrate what’s new and confusing. Stories allow us to draw lines between seemingly dissimilar, unrelated things. They engage our imaginations and that can heal us in physical, psychological, and spiritual ways. The reading or listening to and the making of stories also connect us to others. Barry Lopez wrote, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” If you don’t know how to proceed in life, reading or writing a story or telling your own to someone may serve to guide you.

Local artist Nancy Sevier makes sculpture — visual, multi-dimensional stories — from discarded and forgotten things, from objects left at the side of the road to those found at the dump. She’s been known to pull over at the sight of a piano abandoned roadside to reach inside for parts. In particular, certain objects that once upon a time were more ordinary than they are now, capture her attention and compel her imagination — old wooden boxes, a radio, parts of discarded pianos, from the strings to the keys to the legs, as well as dice, strands of cut steel guitar wire, frayed things, what others might consider no longer useful.

Art can make our inner experience of reality visible and physical. It can be a way to recognize and create relationships between parts of the world and ourselves and each other for the first time. Sevier creates new realities and expands known ones out of bits and pieces that she brings together in new and startling combinations. “I like putting it out there for interpretation,” she told me.

The moment I walked into the gallery at the Monterey Museum of Art that hosts Sevier’s sculpture show, work mostly made of wood and metal, my sense of the knowable expanded and my need to interpret had apparently come to the right (write?) place. The work was talking to me; it was impossible to ignore. In addition to being greeted by Sevier herself, I felt greeted by one of her pieces of art. “Reprise,” a tall abstract, multi-dimensional wooden sculpture, called out to me the way a person does who wants to tell you her story, “You gotta hear this!”

In her artist statement, Sevier writes the show she brings together “abandoned parts … [E]ven in their brokenness, these objects hold meaning and conjure a desire for wholeness and harmony.” Another reason we make stories — to reclaim wholeness and to search for harmony when we’ve lost it. Living through the pandemic has been a time absent of familiar wholeness and harmony. If we can make stories of what’s confusing, we bring our confusion down to hand-hold-able size.

Standing before “Reprise,” I saw a story. It wrote itself right before my eyes. There I was, as if alone in a recently vacated upper-story apartment with dirty windows in a rundown part of town, standing in front of an empty double-decker closet, the door of which had been left open by a young woman who’d departed in a hurry. I peeked inside. She must have pulled her clothes from the many hangers and thrown them into a suitcase, I thought. The components in this sculpture are old, patinaed, and not of the 21st century, so the suitcase I envisioned was old too, one like my mother had, made of blue-painted cardboard with a plastic handle.

Where did she go in such a hurry? I wondered, and I don’t think she’ll be back. It was as if the hanger from which she took the paisley dress to put on was still swinging from the force of her pull. What had she left behind and what of the children? But, no, the story continued, there were no children. Below the empty hangers, there’s a box, empty also except for a crossbar with cut wires — clearly the heart of the matter. I felt compassion for the mysterious woman; it was as though I knew her. From outside the museum doors, there was no way I could have anticipated that I’d be moved by this work. I couldn’t have known that a story would happen to me when upon turning left into the intimate gallery.

It didn’t stop there. The shadows on the wall made by “Reprise” looked like a rib cage. More story: Whose ribs? I felt provoked to wonder. I asked the artist if the shadows were an intentional part of the artwork. “Yes,” Sevier said, smiling. This artist is using more than the sculpture’s typical dimensions; she is also working in light. And not only that. Sevier is also working in sound — there’s a musical theme to this show that’s present in several pieces including an old speaker that has a woman’s form integrated into its fabric front and a series of collages made on the black backs of old boxed album set covers, the collages created from the liner notes and musical scores. You can even listen to her exhibition playlist:( The first song is “Revival,” by Gregory Porter. That’s what Nancy’s show did for me. It was a story-making revival plus an opportunity to see the world anew.

Brian Eno said, “Stop thinking of art works as objects, and start thinking of them as triggers for experience.” There you have it. Go and find yourself beautifully triggered by experiences you could have never foreseen. You haven’t much time to have it though, and I really can’t urge you to take any other walk just now. Nancy Sevier’s show closes on Oct. 2.


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