Grant McFarland is fascinated by the things we leave behind. In fact, it is this relationship between humans and their objects that forms the nucleus of his sculpture exhibit, “Voyager,” which is on display through May 27 at VisArts in Rockville.
“My work lately has focused around the way that we treat things that we create and what happens to them when we pass away or abandon a place or forget about something,” McFarland said by phone from his home in Harford County. “I’ve always been interested in things that we make [and] spaces that we control.”
“Voyager,” the exhibition, presents a marriage of commodities and their owners and traces the pathways that people’s belongings—from the ostensibly important to the incredibly mundane—take beside their humans across the lifespan. When we leave this earth, the artist explained, the things we leave behind seem to say something about us.
“I’ve started to think more about what happens to the people that make [these objects] and then what happens to the things,” McFarland said, adding that he is fascinated by the abandoned industrial spaces throughout Maryland. “I want to look at [an object] and think about where it came from and where it’s going — if it’s going anywhere.”
In the exhibition, McFarland’s vessel for the journey of things is a boat, which he sees as a rather apt metaphor for the travel of both human and object across the sands of time. “I wanted to think about what might happen to possessions within that boat — maybe not in a physical sense but in a psychological sense or in connection to an afterlife,” McFarland said.
Indeed, “Voyager” is described as a sort of “sculptural requiem,” with the boat standing in both for the physical objects left behind after death and the metaphorical crossing into the next realm. McFarland said the boat motif was borrowed from Norse mythology, wherein important warriors were often buried at sea within their vessels.
However, the artist insisted that he himself has not pondered much about his own mortality while contemplating the motif of “Voyager.” “It’s funny that I don’t quite think about [death] directly when I’m making the work. I’m always thinking about myself witnessing things that other people have made,” McFarland said of his work. “I’m kind of thinking of it almost like an archeological site that’s been…re-inhabited maybe.”
Soon the sculptor and University of Maryland Art Honors program graduate — he earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art in 2016 — will be off on a new voyage of his own. After appearing at the opening night gala celebration at VisArts, McFarland will spend the summer working in Pittsburgh before beginning studies toward a master of fine arts at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m really interested in moving outside the gallery space and trying to figure out a way to integrate…spatial investigation and the industrial detritus that’s all around us,” he said, adding his quest will be to “find a way to marry the artwork into that environment a little more directly.”
In his new home, McFarland aims to continue exploring this relationship of man to his environment. He expects the mines of the upper Midwest will provide him with plenty of such inspiration. “There’s also some interesting interactions with the rights to the land [surrounding] existing Native American populations,” McFarland said.
McFarland hopes that those who embark on his artistic voyage will spend more time pondering not only the relationship between humans and their possessions but also such issues as man’s greater relationship to the environment.
“I hope [patrons] can think about these kinds of deeper questions that we tiptoe around sometimes, whether it be directly about death or land use or just the context of our lives and the context of the things that we create,” he said.
Also, he invites the viewers of “Voyager” to ponder their own impermanence. “We all think about things like that–how much time we have to use and what you might do with it and what you might make of your life,” he said. “I guess that’s always present.”
Grant McFarland’s solo sculpture exhibit, “Voyager,” is on view in the Common Ground Gallery at VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville through May 27. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and noon to 8 p.m. Friday. Call 301-315-8200 or visit www.visartscenter.org.