Artist-in-Residence Abigail DeVille talks public art installations and marginalized communities
February 3, 2023
On Wednesday, Artist-in-Residence Abigail DeVille explored the relationship between marginalized communities and America’s past of oppression through a lecture on her sculptures and site-specific installations.
DeVille is a Halley K Harrisburg ’90 and Michael Rosenfeld Artist-in-Residence—the sixth artist to participate in this program.
In her introductory speech, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) Anne Collins Goodyear commended DeVille’s exploration of the intersections of the past with the present.
“[DeVille] uses art as a medium to envision a new future,” Goodyear said. “Ms. DeVille’s work … signals the buoyancy of the future, inviting us to recognize our own agency.”
The talk attracted students and spectators from outside the College, including celebrated artist and illustrator Daniel Minter, demonstrating the broad reach of DeVille’s work.
DeVille highlighted the significance of location during her creative process. The artist explained how she pulls from historical events as she dissected a 2014 installation in the remnants of a rowhome, which was inspired by the Chinese Exclusion Act.
“I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act … this building specifically was in Chinatown,” DeVille said. “This was the first time that I literally made a black hole to talk about historical erasure.”
DeVille often draws on historical texts for direction. The videos DeVille screened that evening were inspired by a 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. speech. DeVille also draws on literature when evaluating subjects like gentrification.
“[New York at Dawn] was in response to a Garcia Lorca poem where he talks about these birds rising over the black putrid water at dawn,” DeVille said. “I didn’t want to identify [the race]—or gender— of the people in the work so I kept using birds as the standard.”
During her lecture, DeVille not only talked about her past successes, but also reflected on projects which had proved to be more complicated. “The New Migration,” in particular, was a public installation created from detritus, which received criticism from certain vocal individuals.
“The project blew up in my face because I didn’t know what the heck was going on,” DeVille said. “And all the politics in the ways the artist can be compromised in a public art project.”
The mayor of the district called the fire department and had all three installations slated as fire hazards. Yet, DeVille explained that the response to her installation was by no means negative.
“[A successful public artwork is] anything that generates dialogue,” DeVille said. “So even though it was a flop, it was still a success … because people were talking about the politics of space.”
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