The Space Between · Mark Cowardin

Personal struggle underlies the works and installations of Mark Cowardin, who grew up near Joplin, Missouri, playing on chat piles and swimming and fishing in mine shafts. This early exposure to a violated landscape influenced his artistic path.

Mark Cowardin is known for his ongoing body of work addressing the impact of consumption – including his own – on the natural environment.

“Making observations on consumption, I recognize I’m part of that system,” he says. Cowardin’s installation at the Nerman, “The Space Between,” reflects a decision to “transcend that narrative” and sound a note of optimism. A central element of “The Space Between” is a large hollow tree trunk form. Fluorescent light fixtures spill from the ends, falling to the floor and climbing to the ceiling. It’s a commentary on consumption, Cowardin says, but also it represents the tree of life.

The installation includes a series of undulating “cloud” sculptures displayed on shelves mounted on the gallery walls.

Made of porcelain, wood, bronze and aluminum, the cloud forms evolved from the artist’s obsession with smokestacks and smoke. “The pieces started from a series of daily drawings I made from observation of the power plant north of Lawrence that I see on my daily commute home,” Cowardin said.

The glitzy finishes and embellishments of the cloud forms would seem to belie their connection with energy consumption, but as with much of Cowardin’s work, there’s a double edge. His treatments take us full circle, endowing the forms with the allure of consumerist baubles.