Mark Soppeland’s “The Shrine of Realization and other Extraordinary Objects and Visionary Images” at Harris Stanton Gallery
How to Capture the Human Condition Without Words
by Josy Jones
It is not easy to capture human growth and struggle. In order to explain humanity to, let’s say, a non-human you’d have to provide an in-depth look at our history, including the history of other countries and their relationship to us (Hi, Russia). Whether you believe in it or not, you’d have to explain religion and explain its origin(s), how it has evolved, its ability to help us explain the mystery of the world we live in, to give us comfort when we have no hope, and often to cause conflict and war. You would have to explain war. Why we fight. Why humans thought that expansion meant power and power meant security. That expansion sometimes meant genocide. Then science. You’d have to explain something that has both improved our lives and deteriorated our connections with our world and those around us.
Or maybe you don’t have to say anything. The exhibit “The Shrine of Realization and other Extraordinary Objects and Visionary Images” by Mark Soppeland has done it for you.
In addition to sounding like the most epic anime episode of all time, the exhibit definitely lives up to its name. Instead of explaining humans to non-humans, Soppeland decided to explain the last 223 years to Ben Franklin with a beautifully crafted metal, illuminated bust of Mr. Franklin surrounded by pictures that assist him in his venture. The pile of pictures is not small, and I’m sure there could be more if Soppeland saw fit. Soppeland included pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Edgar Allen Poe, Nelson Mandela and so many more. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task to pick the images to show to Franklin to give him a better understanding of today’s world.
Ben isn’t the only illuminated metal sculpture in the exhibit. Soppeland sees the use of light in his sculptures as a representation of ourselves. He uses it to represent “the power of the object” and proclaims that the light within the object, representing part of us, has the power to “expand beyond its physical limitations.”
Standing in front of the taller illuminated sculptures, you’ll completely understand. Their eyes glow red, green, blue. I felt like I was standing in front of a magic-being ready to grant me wishes. It’s really an amazing feeling when you think about it. Soppeland basically says the magic-being is you. You have the power to “expand beyond [your] physical limitations.”
Funny thing, he calls these gigantic metal people “guardians.” He couldn’t have picked a better name. When you meet them, you’ll understand. They’re not scary, but with their illuminated eyes and cornucopia of beads, they look like gods and their presence demands respect.
Soppeland uses his work to tackle history, time, technology and human connections. It’s complex. Soppeland says, “In the development of my work I perform the roles of conceptualist, designer, craftsman, historian, philosopher, storyteller, pantheist, scientist and magician,” and he ultimately acknowledges the complexities of tackling these subjects in his body of work.
His newest, what he calls, “investigation” consists of his pieces from the “Organic Algorithm Series.” In this series, he tackles technology. He uses metallic pigments, acrylic paint and other media to capture what technology probably looks like at its core. It’s bright. It’s barely decipherable loads of data, and there is so much we don’t know or understand. Staring at it gave me the feeling of staring at shattering glass sped up so you couldn’t actually see the edges.
Soppeland captures the average person’s understanding of technology beautifully. He says, “An unknown number [of data] exist in secret…often working against the interests of the majority.” There’s so much data, yet the public only sees the surface, fragments of the whole. We don’t see the entirety of what it is doing to us, what it will do to us and how it can be used against us. Soppeland’s paintings capture the unknown in a way that words cannot.
(Photos courtesy of Harris Stanton Gallery)
Visit “The Shrine of Realization and other Extraordinary Objects and Visionary Images” at