Stennett '94 explores idea of survival through art

by University Communications,

Adam Stennett ’94 considers creating art necessary to surviving and seeing beyond one’s assumptions.

On Sept. 26, as part of the Hogue-Sponenburgh Art Lecture Series, he spoke to a group of about 50 students, faculty and community members about how and why to keep making art.

Stennett, an Alaska native who studied studio art and English at Willamette, is a New York-based hyper-realist painter, conceptual artist, sculptor, installationist, performance artist and videographer. His works have been exhibited around the world, including in the U.S., Mexico, Denmark and Germany.

The theme of survival extends throughout Stennett’s work, represented, for example, by paintings of canned water and canteens, a PVC-pipe potato gun and his performance art piece, “Artist Survival Shack” (2013).

Endurance Performance

For this latter piece, Stennett built a 6-foot-9-inch by 9-foot-5-inch shack from greenhouse material. He equipped it with a 55-gallon water tank, a rain collection system, a shower and a composting toilet. From Aug. 1 to Aug. 31, 2013, Stennett lived and worked in the structure on a 535-acre nature reserve in Eastern Long Island, N.Y.

The dwelling’s purpose, Stennett says, was to live and make art away from a world that challenged his ability to do both simultaneously.

“I was thinking about what’s really essential,” Stennett says. “What do we really need to be happy, spiritually feel good and have the headspace and the time to make work? It’s a little absurd in a way, but it also solves a lot of problems that artists run into.”

From his “endurance performance,” Stennett created a whole body of work that — along with the structure itself — was later displayed in New York’s Glenn Horowitz Bookseller gallery.

“I became much more attuned with nature,” Stennett says about living in the shack. “Every time the wind shifted, I was aware of it. Every time it rained a little, I was aware of it. It makes you realize how powerful nature is and how isolated we are from nature sometimes.”

Becoming an Artist

For Stennett, nature is opposite to the world of Big Pharma, post-9/11 fears and government secrecy. When one looks beyond what he or she takes for granted, he says, the potential for artistic creation arises.

“I think anybody can be an artist,” Stennett says. “I truly believe that. I think it’s about awareness and being open to seeing the world in a different way than we normally see it, to find these things that are telling us something, or see past people that are trying to fool you or scare you or control you somehow.

“And I think that’s something that artists especially can really give to the world, encourage people to not just assume that things are the way they think they are.”

The Hogue-Sponenburgh Art Lectureship enables Willamette’s art and art history departments to bring a scholar, artist, critic, curator or leader in the visual arts to campus each year to deliver a public lecture and to meet informally with students and faculty.

• Article by Emma Jonas ’15, creative writing major