Samek Art Gallery to host ‘Reversal of Fortune’ exhibit

PHOTO PROVIDED “Garden of Virtual Kinship” is featured in the exhibit “Reversal of Fortune,” by Stephanie Rothenberg, which runs through Feb. 12 at the Samek Art Museum at Bucknell University, Lewisburg.

LEWISBURG — Through Feb 12, Bucknell University’s Samek Art Museum will be hosting the varying media exhibition “Reversal of Fortune,” by Stephanie Rothenberg of Buffalo, New York. Featuring themes as disparate as social media, botany and finance, the show is certainly unique, and is sure to offer new perspectives into each of these themes individually, as well as their intersections.

The Sun-Gazette was able to interview Samek Art Museum director Richard Rinehart to learn what’s in store for visitors of the “Reversal of Fortune” exhibition.

ISAIAH BRITTON: What’s “Reversal of Fortune” all about?

RICHARD RINEHART: “Reversal of Fortune” is a series of robotic gardens and related network maps that visualize the intersections of social media, finance and philanthropy. Plants in the gardens represent human lives, creating a more sensorial experience with data. Circuits of exchange enabled through crowdfunding platforms illuminate the complex relationship between human life and economic growth. By viewing each plants struggle to survive, the project reflects on what it means to be charitable through the click of a button.

“Garden of Virtual Kinship” resembles a tiered aquaponic system merged with a bank. The centerpiece is a global map containing 650 pill-size containers holding seeds. These seeds represent borrowers of micro loans. An overhead, automated watering system is connected to the Internet. The amount of water the plants receive is dependent on crowdfunded, online financial transactions collected from a social media charity website. Successful transactions trigger appropriate nourishment while failed ventures may lead to dying plants. The outcome is a continuous live mapping of the flow of micro finance capital as it travels from the global north to south and back to the banks who ultimately profit. “Planthropy” is a garden of glowing, digital hanging plants that respond to actual Twitter messages posted by donors to various charities. Each plant represents a charity such as breast cancer or refugees. When the plant receives a Twitter post, its electronic system is activated. The plant is watered while the tweeted messages are played aloud through a computerized voice — “I donate because I’m a survivor,” “I donate because it’s a tax credit.” The result is a global “heartbeat” of synthetic voices emoting the feelings of donors from around the world.

IB: How did you go about finding artist Stephanie Rothenberg?

RR: As the curator as well as director of the Samek Art Museum, I’m always scouting galleries and museums, scanning art announcements and magazines, and generally keeping my eyes and ears open for new artists to exhibition at the Samek. A colleague of mine who is a curator in New York City mentioned Stephanie’s work and I followed up to learn more.

IB: Why do you feel Rothenberg’s work is relevant or important to feature?

RR: Rothenberg’s project deals with the new era of global philanthropy and global finance that we live in. This era is much different than that which existed even 25 years ago, in that now social media tools leverage numbers such that even smaller donations can make a difference, meaning that more people in the world are capable of being donors and contributors.

And we are now connected to global information in such a way that we, again, as individuals, are aware of more opportunities for giving than in the past when a few media outlets would tell us about a relatively few (usually only the biggest, national-level) needs. Banking and global finance have also adapted to this networked environment with the evolution of micro-loans and other mechanisms. Stephanie’s work critiques and reflects on the new social conditions brought on by these technological changes.