Wednesday, 18 July 2012 12:12

A boy is dwarfed by an enormous promotional Pepsi bottle in Susana Raab’s photograph. photo by Michael Rodman

American Idle exhibit opens at CCBC Dundalk

by Nicole Rodman

Think back to the 4th of July holiday a few weeks ago. How did you celebrate?
    Sure, there was a parade, fireworks and patriotic displays, but there were also the Coke brand sodas, the Esskay hot dogs, the Old Navy flag shirts.
    Branding is a well-ingrained part of American culture. Most holidays bring with them the expectation that we will pack ourselves into crowded malls to pick out the perfect mass-manufactured token of affection for every loved one.
    The ever-present nature of branding in America is the subject of American Idle, a new art exhibition now on display at CCBC Dundalk.
    Overseen by gallery coordinator Nicole Buckinham, a CCBC art professor, and curated by former CCBC student Jermaine Bell, the exhibit will be on display in the campus’ Building K art gallery each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as by appointment,  through Saurday, Aug. 4.
    According to Bell, now a student at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, he was a student of Buckingham’s at CCBC when he first came up with the concept for American Idle.
    With a title playing on “American Idol,” Fox Television’s mega-hit singing competition, American Idle was designed to show the viewer how dependent on consumerism and branding our culture really is.
    “If Americans were [pressed] to describe American culture it would be impossible to do it without name-dropping a major retailer,” Bell wrote in a statement handed out at the exhibit.
    He added, “It is because of our allegiance to free markets that our culture is manipulated by advertising agencies to represent what we are and what we value. We no longer question it.”
    For Bell, the main purpose of American Idle is to get visitors to view branding and the cosumer culture in a new light.
    In order to achieve this goal, Bell selected works by four local artists for the show.
    For area sculptor Sebastian Martorana, the exhibit provided a chance to showcase some of his more whimsical pieces.
    Though he is usually occupied creating memorials, monuments or busts of important figures, in 2009 Martorana decided to branch off and create something different.
    Using the tenets of traditional sculpture, Martorana created busts and sculptures of notable figures from his own childhood.
    These works, which include figures of Kermit the Frog, Mario and a Lego man, are now on display as part of the American Idle exhibit.
    As part of the exhibit, Martorana also submitted a series of small memorials, created using Häagen-Dazs and Sharon’s Sorbet ice cream containers, talc and alabaster.
    According to Martorana, he had just finished working on a series of memorials when he decided to begin making monuments to things he enjoyed, instead of things that made him sad.
    “My intent was to do a memorial to something I enjoy,” he told The Eagle. “I enjoy sitting at home eating ice cream with my wife. These are memorials to things that make me happy.”
    Nationally-recognized visual artist Christina Marsh is also featured in CCBC Dundalk’s exhibit.
    Notable for her use of food in much of her artwork, Marsh submitted a small model house constructed entirely of Aunt Jemima pancake boxes.
    A variety of striking photographs rounded out the college’s small art exhibition.
    Born in Peru, photographer Susana Raab now lives and works in Washington, D.C.
    For her part of the American Idle exhibit, Raab submitted three photos.
    One photo, “Finger-Lookin’ Good,” features three Colonel Sanders look-a-likes at a competition in Kentucky in 2009.
    Another photo, “Too Long at the Fair,” shows a small boy waiting in the foreground of a fair scene as an overflowing trash can spills refuse in the background.
    Raab’s third photograph  features the erection of a giant promotional Pepsi bottle in Portsmouth, Ohio.
    All three photographs provide the viewer with an alternate view of some of the most well-known brands in America.
    Baltimore photographer Sofia Silva, a native of Argentina, focuses on suburban environments and the way in which they reflect our current society.
    Both of Silva’s entries in the American Idle show, pictures of a subway wall and a section of a parking garage, reflect that focus.
    In addition to CCBC Dundalk, her work has been featured in Washington, New York, Virginia and Argentina.

•   American Idle runs through Aug. 4 in the K Building at CCBC Dundalk, 7200 Sollers Point Road. Gallery hours are Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. The gallery is closed on weekends. For more information, call 443-840-3497.