Exhibit exposes balance between tech and its detrimental environmental effects

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The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College will present the work of contemporary Ethiopian artist Elias Sime in an exhibition titled Elias Sime: Tightrope opening Saturday, Sept. 7.

The exhibition; the opening reception on Sept. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m.; and the Artist’s Conversation from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the same day are all free and open to the public. The exhibit closes on Dec. 8.

Tightrope, refers to the precarious balance between the progress technology has made possible and its detrimental impact on the environment and features works of art of varying scales. Sime’s brightly colored tableaus are made from found materials including thread, buttons, bottle caps, electrical wires, and computer detritus.

Repurposing salvaged electronic components—such as circuits and keyboards—that the artist often buys at the open-air market in his hometown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he lives and works, Sime creates his intricately woven compositions.

These works highlight the often overlooked or unseen beauty of the humble materials he employs as well as the problems of environmental sustainability they present.

Sime’s work reflects on the repositories of e-waste that are often imported from elsewhere in the world to countries in Africa. The work also incorporates redundant technologies from the former Soviet Union and the West, highlighting Ethiopia’s complex, modern political history from communism and ethnic federalism to a now democratic government.

The resulting abstractions reference landscape, topography, and the figure, and at times, employ patterning drawn from traditional Ethiopian textiles. 

As part of the exhibition, the artist created a site-specific sculpture at the Wellin Museum titled Flowers & Roots, inspired by peonies found in Hamilton’s gardens, with their twisted and complicated roots exposed. At more than nine feet tall and seventeen feet wide, the work is comprised of repurposed computer parts, electrical wire, bronze, and cement. 

Flowers & Roots was constructed with the assistance of a group of Hamilton students during the summer. 

“Elias Sime is one of the most significant artists working today,” Tracy Adler, the exhibition’s curator and the Wellin Museum’s Johnson-Pote Director, explains.

“He is both critical and embracing of the world we live in and brings a truly global sensibility to his work without losing any of its authenticity and authorship. While technology has in many ways changed our lives for the better and facilitated international communication and partnership, it has resulted in detrimental byproducts both materially in terms of its refuse, and socially and culturally, in that we look more to our devices than to each other.”

Sime said, “My art is a reflection of who I am as a human being without borders, labels and imposed identity. There is a sense of unity and cooperation that I reflect through my art. At the root of all of it is love and passion. With this exhibition, including many years of my work, I hope the students and other visitors will share my feelings expressed on the arts.”

Curated by Adler, Elias Sime: Tightrope will travel to the Akron Art Museum in Akron, Ohio (Feb. 29 through May 24, 2020), the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri (June 11 through Sept.13, 2020), and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada (Dec. 12, 2020 through April 18, 2021).

Sime’s work has been shown internationally at the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal; the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, Austria; and in the United States at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. 

Wellin Museum of Art hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. The museum is located on the Hamilton College campus on College Hill Road at Griffin Road. Parking and admission are free of charge. For more information, call 315-859-4396 or go online to www.hamilton.edu/wellin.

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