Willmar Art Gallery
The Art Gallery is located in Building F on the upper level.
The Ridgewater Fine Art Gallery program is pleased to announce the fall season of exhibits opens with “Belgium/Minnesota”, a Multi-media installation by St. Paul artist Michelle Westmark Wingard. The artist explores the concept of perception and the narrative of truth in history with this fascinating exhibit that focuses on her Grandfather’s heroic survival of a WWII plane crash.
Within the exhibit, you will find photography of the Belgian country-side affixed directly to the gallery windows, with a custom built viewfinder that can be used to search out the terrain. The two-channel video within the gallery subverts the reality of the windows that face the outside of the gallery by showing a time-lapse of another gallery space window that is framing a landscape and dual sunset.
The exhibit is on view starting August 27th and will be open until October 1st, when the artist will be giving a gallery talk at both 12 and 1 PM. The gallery and gallery talk are open to the public, and the gallery is on view m-f from 8 am to 5 PM, located in the fine art building on the Willmar campus of Ridgewater College.
Michelle Westmark Wingard
On February 20, 1945, my grandfather’s plane – a B-24 called The Pale Ale – crashed in a farmer’s field near Dergneau, Belgium. Most of the crew was able to escape before the plane crashed with the exception of the pilot, nose gunner, and the navigator who perished in the crash explosion. As he told it, my grandfather was the last to bail out a few miles from the crash site. As luck would have it on this already ill-fated day, my grandfather’s parachute opened in time to save his life but not in time to save his leg. His leg was so badly broken that he found himself in a farmer’s field unable to move in Nazi-occupied Belgium. Thankfully, a farmer – risking his own life – came out with a wheelbarrow and carried my grandfather back to his farmhouse (a location and an identity still unknown). My grandfather was taken to a hospital where he would fully recover, return home and start his family.
In 2016, I made a trip to the Belgian crash site and met with the town historian.
We know my grandfather didn’t land with the plane because he survived. And so, while I was in Belgium I photographed fields within a 5-mile radius of the crash site. Belgium/Minnesota exists as both an installation and a two-channel time-lapse video. I’ve been extracting horizon lines from my photographs of Belgian fields and installing them on windows over the existing horizon line. At some points during the day, the light outside matches the light in the photographed landscape and at some points the decal is backlit and appears as a redaction of the existing horizon. At any given point in the day, it is a study of contrasts: light/dark, real/imagined, manicured landscape/wild natural landscape, static/ever-changing. The stand-in horizons allow a visual dialog about landscape, longing and the passing of time to emerge.
The horizon appears as an unrequitable end point. Relative and yet intangible, it is a place that can never be reached. It is the optical illusion of something that exists only in theory. In researching the story of my grandfather’s plane crash during WWII, I found that each recounting of the story is different. Each story is shaped by individual perspective and the passage of time. The more I have learned about my grandfather’s story, the more subjective it has become. And so, in an effort to visually explore this idea, my project investigates landscapes and objects that embody a history that can no longer be physically seen and is in search of unknowable certainties.
Michelle Westmark Wingard is a Professor of Art and the Gallery Director of Bethel University’s two exhibition spaces. Her photographic and curatorial endeavors often explore themes of memory, perception, and interconnection. She has curated several exhibitions and has also exhibited her own photographic work nationally. Wingard has been a recipient of the Jerome Foundation Travel and Study grant (2015) and the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant (2017) to photograph the site in Belgium where her grandfather’s plane crashed during WWII. She received her MFA in photography from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York in 2006 and currently lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.