I have a million questions to ask Elizabeth Switzer, the artist behind the Art and Music Library’s new exhibit “Twelve Days in August.” When walking by this quiet exhibit, one might take a quick glance and think the walls are blank, awaiting artwork. But upon closer look, they will see a collection of framed pictures with a small splotch of color in the center of each one.

This sequence was done when Switzer dabbed the tea bag from her drink on the off-white paper, then traced it lightly with a pencil. My immediate reaction was, What in the world possessed her to even think of this?

In her introduction to the collection, Switzer writes: “While for most people tea implies a moment of calm, my practice lends itself to the obsessive. I continually count, measure and record. This shows itself in my work to varying degrees. In ‘Twelve Days in August’ I am systematically recording and marking the passage of time through the act of drinking tea. Each work records a moment, some with company, many alone. Sometimes the tea is for relaxation, some is for energy, some to calm my stomach, but they all become the same in the end, stains on paper, an echo of moments past.” Again, my reaction was skeptical: does she find her tea-drinking habits slightly strange?

But the notion of “an echo of moments past” is what stuck most with me as I re-circled the artwork. When a tea bag is first laid down, it soaks the paper, staining it and rendering it trash, the way people usually throw out the napkin that their used tea bag sits in. But with patience the paper slowly dries, and what is left is a beautiful color, each one drying much different from the next. Even with the same type of tea, the shade left behind on the napkin can vary.

Honestly, I see this principle in my life. I have experienced moments and actions that can never be undone, the staining of the paper, that predict a disgusting, irreversible mark on my life – a bad grade, a fight with a friend, a disappointment, a tragedy – but so far as I have lived these moments all have passed.

As I pondered each piece of art, I thought about how fortunate we are in this life to have the ability to watch and wait while situations play out, the same way the stained paper has the ability to dry, change and become something more beautiful than before it started. And if I just contemplated my entire life because of tea stains on a piece of paper, who am I to call her tea-drinking habits strange?

I still have a million questions to ask Switzer. Why did she choose these 12 days? Did something significant happen in that time? Has tea always made her feel obsessive? Does the drying of each tea bag make her feel calmer than the obsessive tendencies she felt before drink?

The list could go on, but with those unanswered questions aside, the exhibit made me think. I could not escape thoughts about how two people can view the same exact act, such as drinking tea, so differently. It also astounded me how art can be created from life’s simplest things (each painting is being sold for $200, yet it would be possible for anyone to walk into Starbucks and create the same image).

I would highly recommend this exhibit, which continues until Sept. 28, to those who wish to look a little bit deeper into life’s every day moments through the seemingly mundane.

Paret is a member of the class of 2008.



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