‘Stories Beneath the Water:’ Nashville artist creates haunting installation in art gallery

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A glowing figure lying on the floor of Union’s Art Department gallery in the Penick Academic Complex surprised Katie Williams, junior art major, as she walked through the building’s main corridor and glanced into the gallery window.
Williams spotted “Stories Beneath the Water,” an installation created by Nashville artist Angela D. Lee.
“When I first saw it, it caught me off guard because I saw it from the hallway, and I thought someone was lying on the floor,” Williams said.
The piece includes sand piled on the floor with indentations similar to those a human body would make in sand.
Projected in those indentations is a video on a loop of a figure wrapped in white lying in a creek. The projection gives the image a three-dimensional effect.
The artist attached what appear to be family records to the wall in the shape of coffins to accompany the main display of the projections in the sand.
“It has shocked people,” Williams said. “It’s put a new idea in their mind even if they don’t agree with that idea.”
Lee held her closing reception for the piece Aug. 29.
Twenty years after attending Union as a freshman, Lee gave a lecture on her work before convening in the gallery to discuss the work and host a question-and-answer session.
The project was deeply personal for her, she said.
“Where you’re from is in your blood,” Lee said. “I’ve tried to run away from it but can’t.”
The backstory involves Lee’s family ties to the Tennessee River valley, which flooded in the 1930s as part of the implementation of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the TVA Act into law as part of The New Deal.
Creating TVA was an innovative part of Roosevelt’s plan to hoist the nation out of the Great Depression. Its dams controlled floods and generated electricity.
The TVA brought electricity to places that had never had it while many graves were covered in water, never
to be found again.
Williams said the piece is “a response to personal loss of history.”
Bringing work from outside of Union helps prepare students for engagement with culture when they leave Union.
Lee’s artist statement says, “No sooner than we leave, Home calls us back. Sometimes Home cannot be revisited. Perhaps Home has been destroyed, reconfigured or dramatically altered in some other way.”
Her piece is a response to the question she poses at the end of the statement: “What does the human heart do when reality does not match the memory of Home?”
Lee is from Jackson and attended Union for three years before completing her degree at Belmont University.
She now teaches art at Lipscomb University in Nashville.
Williams said the ongoing conversation about art at Union is essential and that the quasi-monthly installations in the art gallery provide fodder for that conversation.
Even if the piece looks simple, “the second you put something in a gallery setting the public is forced to respect it,” Williams said.
The newest show in the gallery is “Details” by glass blower David Patchen. That show will appear in the gallery until Oct. 3.