Aaron Fowler’s Into Existence at the Seattle Art Museum is a peculiar and fascinating exhibit. Experiencing Into Existence is like reading a storybook collecting narratives about Aaron Fowler’s life.
Debo Free, one of the artworks in the exhibit, shows a man wearing Nike shoes and a shirt which says ‘Debo Douglass’ breaking free from the chains attached to his wrists. Coming from the top of the structure and going onto the adjacent wall is an ominous-looking rope. There are shards of broken mirrors around him, and above and below him are the words “Debo Free” in lights. On the back the words are switched so that it says “Free Debo.” The man is in Crocs and with holes all over his body. The artwork clearly has a lot of symbolism; I interpret the holes as meaning that the man lives an unfulfilling life and feels hollow. The front of the structure represents that man breaking free from his empty life and finding meaning. However, it could also be about the incarceration of the artist’s friend, as demonstrated by the use of chains and a rope representing captivity. Fowler’s work opens itself up to many different interpretations.
Another example that demonstrates Fowler’s impressive use of symbolism is the artwork “Me and Pops.” The piece shows a man with the word ‘Pops’ written repeatedly over his face looking lovingly at a man, presumably Fowler, with headphones ironing clothes. There is a roof coming out from over the artwork, representing Fowler feeling sheltered and safe with his father. Behind Fowler are what I assumed to be the initial designs for his other works: Debo Free and Amerocco, rendered in crude photoshop mock-ups. I interpreted these designs signify that Fowler’s father is the source of his inspiration for his works and is perhaps the reason that he became an artist. Overall, the piece is fantastic and emits a warm and comforting energy to the viewer.
Into Existence was a lovely exhibit to see. Fowler successfully told the stories of himself, his family, and his friends with unique symbolism. His use of many different recycled materials made the artworks engaging, letting the viewer question why he chose to use that material. For example, I interpreted the mirrors on a man’s face from Amerocco as an invitation for the viewers to imagine themselves in that scenario. The use of recycled materials perhaps implies that stories can be recycled and retold. The artworks are very symbolic, and the viewers must make their own interpretation as to what the story behind the artwork is. I was thoroughly impressed by Fowler’s work.
Into Existence is on display at the SAM December 13, 2019 - June 28, 2020. For event information see here.