Environmental artist won't pull punches HCC exhibition explores pollution of earth and soul WEST COLUMBIA

February 17, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

Margaret Kahlor has never been one to shy away from pressing the envelope of society's expectations.

She's earned a living in the male-dominated construction carpentry and heavy manufacturing fields.

Now working as a video producer at Howard Community College, she also expresses her views through what's referred to as "issue art" or "art theater." The issue she explores is modern man's degradation of the environment and the human spirit.

"I've always been real concerned about the environment and what we're doing to it," says Ms. Kahlor, 30. "I believe art can invoke emotion and influence people to change the way they live and behave. My art has no hidden or subtle messages. It's pretty clear what I'm getting at."

True enough. Consider some of the seven works that will be in her show Monday through Feb. 27 at the Galleria in the science and technology building at Howard Community College.

Viewers of a piece entitled "Gone Fishing" will find a life-sized figure of a man, clad in yellow rain gear sitting on a dock fishing. On a platform below the figure, Ms. Kahlor has constructed a black and magenta ocean floor littered with an array of industrial, medical and household wastes, such as propane tanks, syringes and electronic devices. Seaweed figures, made from foam, are colored a sickly brown-green.

Between the fisherman and the ocean floor will be suspended fish figures. Some are day-glow orange and yellow. Others are black or have only one eye.

"What this is about is that we're going to get our pollution back," Ms. Kahlor says.

"It ends up in the food chain and comes back to us. We're really just polluting ourselves," she says, pausing from working on her latest piece, created in the basement work shop of her Arbutus home.

The work, titled "Tears from Mother Earth," is a 7-foot figure of a pregnant woman with forearms and hands outstretched. Her face is forlorn. The tableau shows the figure standing on a used car tire. Underneath the tire is half a globe. The figure's skin is cobalt blue. The hair and skirt are aqua green, as are some globs that rise from the figure's rounded belly. The color variation, Ms. Kahlor says, is meant to signify the fading life force of the earth.

Like most of Ms. Kahlor's pieces for the show, the ocean and earth scenes have a macabre element.

"I don't want people to leave the show feeling as if they have been assaulted," Ms. Kahlor says. "I'm trying to promote awareness about what's happening to the environment. I want people to be moved to think about what we're doing as a society to our environment and to realize that they can change that."

The other common element is movement. For example, the "Gone Fishing" work has fans beneath the ocean floor blowing seaweed figures and the fish.

While the affable Ms. Kahlor doesn't earn a living from her art, that's what feeds her soul, she says. Her evolution from construction carpentry to video production came as a result of boredom, she says.

She moved from carpentry into the manufacturing field to earn better wages, found the work unchallenging and decided she'd attend college to study set design, a field she thought would mesh well with her carpentry and manufacturing skills.

While earning her associate degree in theater she quickly discovered that set design was not exactly a hot employment field and shifted her focus to video.

"One day this idea for the mother earth display popped in my head and it kept coming back to me," Ms. Kahlor recalls. "I decided since I had all this free time on my hands to go ahead and do it."

Her first rendering of the work did not last and she's had to re-create it for the show next week. But that first work did earn her recognition.

While building it, she heard about an annual environmental art show sponsored by the Environmental Club at Howard Community College. Although judges passed it over for an award, visitors, who are allowed to cast their own ballots, liked it enough to vote the work the 1991 People's Choice Award.

While Ms. Kahlor is particularly interested in the issue of ecological degradation, she also is intrigued by forces that pollute the human mind and spirit.

She believes that television is one of the strongest polluters of mind and spirit, hence her work titled "Non Reality Absorption Leads to Reality Destruction."

The work is a scene of three televisions stacked atop one another. A cutout figure of a man leans his head into the bottom television screen. At the top of the work, only the feet dangle outside the screen.

Next to the televisions is a collage of photographs clipped from magazines. Scenes of wildlife are juxtaposed next to industrial scenes and ecological devastation, such as a rain forest ablaze.

"The pollution of the mind is a very scary thing," Ms. Kahlor says. "We get sucked into the television and the information it feeds us. Problems are solved in the span of one show and that leaves a lot of people feeling inadequate. They forget their own personal power to create and effect change in their own lives.

"I hope that's the one message people get out of the show. You can change your own life and that of your community and world for the better. You don't have to just sit around and let things go on as they are."

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