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The power of parody in visual art

Hannah Perendy (‘20) admires Beauvais Lyons’s artwork.

Hannah Perendy (‘20) admires Beauvais Lyons’s artwork.

Karl Nycklemoe (‘18) | Chips

Karl Nycklemoe (‘18) | Chips

Hannah Perendy (‘20) admires Beauvais Lyons’s artwork.

Karl Nycklemoe, Staff Writer

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Chancellor Professor of Art at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Beauvais Lyons talked about his art as a mock documentarian on Thursday, Nov. 9. The exhibit titled “Envisioned Worlds: Litographs from the Hokes Archives” is on display in the Kristen Wigley-Fleming Fine Arts Gallery in the Center for the Arts (CFA).

Lyons’ works include prints, fabrications, and cultural artifacts. The titles of his works include “The Association for Creative Zoology,” “Reconstruction of an Aazudian Temple,” and “Creative Medical Arts.”

A dozen students, faculty, and Decorah community members attended Lyons’ gallery talk. Lyons began his talk with a quote by Linda Hutcheon about parody existing as an imitation of specific works, genres, or disciplines. Lyons used the many imitations of the Mona Lisa as an example. Lyons described parody as something that can aid us in critical thinking, with parody artists potentially being a sort of trickster to both the media and ourselves. Lyons then explored the many works of parody and imitation that have been created, ranging from “mockumentaries” such as “This is Spinal Tap,” a parody of documentaries that focused on the faux band, Spinal Tap, to parodies of academic work such as the “centaur skeleton” at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Lyons then finished the talk by addressing his own work and activities with parodies in medicine, zoology, archaeology, and folk art. In an interview after the event, Lyons elaborated on what parody is and why it is important.

“Parody means you can take the authority of a recognized work of art or system of information, be it an encyclopedia or something else, and imitate it,” Lyons said. “But then ironically treat it, so it becomes a critical commentary on that background work. It’s a way of calling attention to the authority of the background work, but also decentering it and undermining its authority too.”

Students who attended the event appreciated Lyons’ approach to parody. Art major Ryan Koning (‘19) compared Lyons’ work to that of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was frustrated with those who blindly accepted what the media or those in authority said. Koning is hopeful that parody can be a tool for critical thinking.

“I feel that’s what a lot of people are like today — just following what people tell them,” Koning said. “I think that presenting people with this parody and then having them find out it isn’t true can encourage them to look at things with a more critical lens in the future.”

Currently, Lyons’ work is set up salon-style in the Fine Arts Gallery, grouped together by the topics of zoology, archaeology, and medical anatomy. While each work is presented as a true academic print, including a biography of Everett Ormsby Hokes, every work is completely fictional and parodies the topic it reflects. Gallery Coordinator and attendee of the gallery talk David Kamm notes that since the exhibit involves a parody of several academic fields, it should be of importance to those who study these fields.

“This is not a show just for artists, and while most of our shows are not just for artists, this one specifically addresses and deals with areas that [many] people have an interest in,” Kamm said. “History, archaeology, anthropology, biology, the environment, medicine, anatomy, all of those things are touched upon in this show one way or another.”

Beyond the gallery talk, students enjoyed the exhibition whether or not they are an art student. Hannah Perendy (‘20), a nursing student who visited the exhibition, believes that addressing the absurd or fictitious can give a better understanding of what is true.

“In nursing, [our curriculum] is so intense,” Perendy said. “We focus on what it is [real] and how to fix it. Because of this I think that it’s good to bring into question things like: ‘what if the proportions of our organs were off?’ [Our bodily functions] would change so much, and from there we can learn [our organs] are this way for a reason and solidify what we know.”

The exhibition will be on display until Dec. 8.

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