Artist Honl uses geometric forms to translate community, human feeling

Ellie Honl’s exhibit “Sheltered Strategies” opened in the MacVittie College Union’s Kinetic Gallery on April 5. Honl uses geometric shapes to convey themes of community and raw human emotion, and her collection moves in a cycle around the gallery. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

The newest exhibit in the Kinetic Gallery is a captivating display entitled “Sheltered Strategies” by Ellie Honl. Located in the MacVittie College Union, the exhibit made its Geneseo debut last week on April 5. 

The depiction of geometric structures, or shelters, is the central theme tying the collection together. Using this link, the pieces make up a sort of sequence or cycle around the gallery, telling a story. 

The shelters are pictured in clusters resembling groups of homes, as they present the concept of a community. At the start of the cycle, the shelters are pictured as some type of environment of adversity. 

The first piece is titled “Abandoned,” as it features a dilapidated structure with broken windows. Honl uses mixed media; the shelter made of stiff wood and plastic is set against a softer printed background. In “Abandoned,” the background is made up of reddish, watercolor-like hues and a large dark shadowy mass, which seems to be encroaching upon the run-down structure.

The following pieces in this leg of the sequence depict other structures in various predicaments; some are being swept away by murky waters or battered by winds. By the time the viewer comes to the end of this row of pieces, there is a shift. 

The last picture in this phase is titled “Fortified” and depicts a cluster of shelters, but this time is protected by a sturdy wooden wall and a moat. The drawbridge of the wall is lifted, protecting the shelters from the ominous shadows swimming just outside the barricade. 

The next two pieces show the shelters against a dark, solid blue background, stark and strong. This sets off the next part of the story, where the shelters start to strengthen and even fight back against the opposing forces of nature. Some of the shelters are up on stilts to rise above the dark shadows, while others are thrusting wooden spears against the darkness to fight it off. Some are even flying through the air, firing ammunition against a dark turbulent force. 

One notable piece is titled “Going with the Flow.” It shows the structures inside of a boat, floating atop a dark sea. Instead of being beat down by the world, the shelters are now holding their own. 

The final piece in the sequence is “Acceptance,” the only piece without any geometric structures in it. It depicts a brightness that looks like clouds in the sky. There are no shadows and no structures—none of the chaotic darkness shown in the other pieces. By the end, the shelters have finally done their job.

The shelters in this collection make for an interesting subject. They are almost personified; they are rigid and stark, but somehow they seem to possess emotion, as the viewer sees their battle with their environments. We feel for the poor houses. 

But in the real world, it’s not our buildings and homes that battle life’s ups and downs—it’s the human beings living inside them. This collection recalls those who are without homes, whose shelters have been taken from them by natural disaster, war or poverty.

Honl’s work is created based on how people react to trauma in their lives and the coping mechanisms they use. In her creative research, she utilizes theories about human defense mechanisms from Sigmund Freud, as well as other current theories. Honl’s chaotic landscapes and backgrounds are a metaphor for the uncertain and unreliable circumstances of life. 

Human psychology may be a dark and touchy subject for some, but the light color palette and simplicity of these pieces make these issues more easily consumable. It gives the viewer a way to contemplate these ideas openly and comfortably. 

As she has portrayed through this collection of artwork, Honl hopes that, “if we confront and effectively cope with our circumstances, we will become stronger and more resilient as individuals and as a society.”