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Frontiering a Salted Earth

A steel handcart makes its way through the vast expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats, near the Great Salt Lake. The artist, Beth Krensky, is performing her artwork as she slowly walks it across the white, open space.

Krensky modeled her piece, Metaphysical Handcart, after the handcarts that Mormon pioneers used when they traveled to Utah in the 1800s, which were a cheaper alternative to wagons.

This period of handcart travel happened only for a few years during the 1850s. Beyond the piece’s connection to the pioneers’ handcarts, Krensky describes how the Salt Flats themselves have a connection to migration, specifically the Donner Party’s difficult crossing of the flats as their wagons sunk into the salt. The environment of the flats represented hardship and challenge for Krensky, and, as aspects of a metaphysical journey, created a space in which she wanted to perform her piece.

Her handcart is made up of a steel tray mounted on supports, with wheels for the front support. A wooden handle is mounted at the back of the tray to push it, and the compartments have a unique assortment of items.

In each section of the cart a new object can be found.

One has a variety of bells, that Krensky both collected and made out of bronze. Another has a ceramic dish with olive leaves and a Hebrew blessing for children along the outside edge, representing our future. In the last section four cast bronze birds can be found. They represent dead birds, as a “reference to both the possibility of flight as well as the loss of flight.”

Krensky is a professor of art education at the University of Utah. She has spent a decade with the youth arts organization, Project YES, has coordinated many community-based art initiatives, and has received multiple teaching and research awards.

Her art is meant to provoke reflection about our world and to create a vision of what is possible.

In her own description of her artwork, she describes how pushing the cart gives her “a sense of a narrow liminality, that the division between Heaven and Earth comes somehow aroused.” For her, the art piece opens a “new frontier,” particularly a metaphysical one, which she describes as an Other space.

Krensky’s other work includes both “objects,” and “actions,” where there is a performance like her pushing the cart. Many of these were also done at the Great Salt Lake, like her action the “Sun Funnel” and the “Home (land) Birth (place)” performance.

This piece is cared for by the Division of Arts & Museums and is part of the State of Utah Alice Merrill Horne Art Collection.

Many unique Utah treasures like this are cared for by Arts and Museums, however the collection lacks the necessary conditions and space to care for these pieces. We propose a new collection facility to care for, preserve, and share these pieces of Utah’s history.

If you believe collection pieces like this should be preserved and shared, please sign our pledge to protect them.

 


Written by Michelle James

category: Migration
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