At first glance, the 111-foot-long exhibition of hand-stitched imagery looks like a cheerful landscape of puffy clouds and a bright blue sky. Flowers and animals are scattered throughout the piece, and even the occasional child playing can be seen in the background. But with a second glance, one will notice that some of the animals have their eyes crossed out, some of the children are throwing up in the grass, pollution fills the sky and underground mines are burning.
Maggy Rozycki Hiltner, a studio artist and activist, will have her exhibition “Vantage Point” displayed at the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus. The exhibit will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m on weekdays starting Oct. 7 through Feb. 14.
The exhibition consists of sections of fabric that all together create a panoramic image of a landscape that wraps around the walls of the gallery. Throughout the piece, Hiltner references man-made disasters such as mine fires, as well as natural disasters like volcanic eruptions.
Anytime Hiltner tried to create a landscape, she said she found it impossible to do so without including pollution and its effects. “Vantage Point” is a continuous composition of a landscape whose purpose, according to Hiltner, is to draw people in and then point out the terrifying reality of Earth’s natural environment.
“There are good things happening at the same time as these terrible things, and that's the truth,” Hiltner said. “The world is beautiful, but it's also burning down at the same time.”
The first showing of “Vantage Point” was in 2015 at Mesa Art Center in Arizona. However, in order to adapt to bigger galleries, Hiltner expanded the exhibition in 2018 and added a few pieces to include references to events as recent as a year ago and as far back as the 1960s, but not in any specific order.
“It seems like it might have to grow again,” Hiltner said. “The world keeps burning down, so it seems like I might end up adding a little more.”
Michael Burton, an assistant professor of practice in textiles, merchandising and fashion design at UNL, found Hiltner’s work interesting because it looks innocent from a distance, but as people step closer, they realize what the artist is actually saying. Burton described Hiltner’s work as “faux naive.”
“By this, I mean fake naivety because they look like they were made by children, but there’s pretty high craft involved because she knows what she is doing visually,” Burton said.
Hiltner explains she is interested in work that expresses the same earnestness found in the work of children. She uses colorful and cheerful textiles and designs she has found in thrift stores, yard sales and around her own home to draw the viewer in — then she changes the context.
“I would pair things with other things to change their meaning,” she said. “Turning those cheerful materials so the message is a little unexpected.”
Hiltner emphasizes that, though her work appears like that of a child, there is a lot of research and education behind it. Equivalent to news tickers seen at the top and bottom of the screen when watching televised news, Hiltner has strings of words along the top and bottom of “Vantage Point.” All of the words are inspired from news stories and are associated with the images in the piece. Hiltner even published a glossary to go with the exhibition in case viewers are curious.
“It's a visual piece, and I wanted to back it up with my research,” she said. “It can definitely be interpreted without it, but if someone is like me and wants to understand, they might want to read a little more.”
According to Hiltner, it is important for people to look closely at their surroundings. The exhibition reflects the fact that there are hidden pieces of the world that must be acknowledged. It does this by showing the beauty of the earth while also presenting the hard-to-see reality of the influence people have on the environment. In both the piece and in real life, flowers will grow around dead animals and children will get sick on playgrounds because of people’s carelessness with the environment.
“I hope that the exhibition would encourage them to think about the issues that are in there and all the different ways environmental issues creep [into] our area and around the world.”