The first studio on the Upper Level of PAI welcomes the visitor with an exterior wall display comfortably arranged with the art of studio occupant Ann Dinapoli. One piece that immediately attracts my attention appears from a distance to be a somewhat ethereal abstraction of delicate autumn leaves in motion. On closer inspection I realize it is actually a beautiful image of dead or dying bees. My bee-loving heart does a little jump as I muse about life, death, pollination, and how without the work of the bees the food for my table would change dramatically. I decide to ask Ann Dinapoli about the motivations behind her art. I found her discussion fascinating:
“I am working with a vision of a dystopic present. Often artists do dystopic futures, about destruction in the future. Mine is the view that the dystopia that we are living in is now. What generates the dystopia is the protective covering we put on ourselves as part of human civilization. We build these things around us to protect us from the world, from each other, from this atmosphere of fear we have created... hence my images of space suits and architectural structures. We use these shields to protect us.
Drones Bringing the Future of Civilization (2015)
“I intentionally make the images kind of beautiful. Colors are slightly romantic. There is a feel of the ethereal, something that will intentionally attract the eye to it. I have found that if I make an image that is too scary nobody will look at it.
On the other hand, as in the latest piece of the bees which is ‘Communal Collapse Disorder’ (above), a hundred percent of the people who come in to comment say, ‘that’s such a beautiful image.’ That’s a big plus for me, to have someone come in to tell me how beautiful it is, because that’s the flip side of this whole thing.
“People are talking about how we are going to hell in a hand basket and why doesn’t anybody stop - including myself - destroying our world? Why don’t we put an end to putting carbon in the atmosphere, throwing garbage into the ocean, cutting down a rain forest, or whatever it is that will cause mass extinction? How come we can’t just stop?
“There is something so seductive and beautiful about the destructive aspects of civilization that we can’t stop. We are caught up in it. It is so seductively easy. When you think about our disposal system on the West Coast, most of our sewage goes into the sea untreated. You put it in the toilet, you put it in your drain, you wash it away and forget about it. The only way to stop this involves a tremendous amount of work and mindfulness about what is going on. This becomes complicated, dirty. You have to think about things that nobody wants to think about.
Mercury Helmet (2010)
“So civilization is romantically seductive. It tells you things are easier than they really are. It tells you that anybody in this world can buy a good life and that there will be no repercussions, so (looking up at a painting) hence the space suit that has everything, including a tube that runs right out of the groin. (Laughs) So many people ask me whether they really had that, and they did.
“...You don’t know whether the world around you is safe. Hence the cities (I looked up at a painting/drawing of dilapidated buildings that appear to be floating in a pale blue mist). You can image that inside these buildings is the good housekeeping world, but the moment that you walk out of the building it is not beautiful, it is not nice. We don’t come out of our houses and look around and say, ‘What has (the making of the materials of) this house really done to our environment?’ We just see the beautiful house.
“So that’s basically what I do. Create imagery that addresses these issues. This is what I consider to be my real artwork.”
Ann Dinapoli went on to explain that while she finds creating dystopia imagery cathartic, her lighter themed illustration work (which she creates to earn a living and can be found in children’s books, poetry and short story collections, menus and winery pamphlets) is a struggle to produce. She is deeply aware that in order to make her living she has to join civilization in creating and supporting the romantic fantasy that dystopian theory decries as an act of destruction. “We are all in this together. There is no way out of civilization.”
Communal Collapse Disorder 1869-present (2015)
From my own perspective, as I gazed at Dinapoli’s well planned out and executed images of very difficult subject matter, I could only wonder at how we humans find meaning and catharsis from such a diversity of perspectives. What strength of mind it must take for this artist to look with nurturing understanding at the destructive quality of human frailty, admit to its qualities within herself, and then smile invitingly as she opens the door of her studio to show the world.
To understand this strength, I asked if it was Dinapoli's scientific education that inspired her point of view. She explained that it actually probably came from her childhood. When her father returned from serving in WWII he studied to become a teacher and his political views changed from conservatism to liberalism. His hometown was in the same Wisconsin district that McCarthy came from. When he stood up against McCarthyism it became economically unsafe to remain in the state so he took his wife and budding family to Arizona where it was better, but not that much better. Her father remained politically suspect for his progressive views, especially since he was a teacher. The feeling that disaster could strike at any moment remained within the dynamics of her home situation throughout her childhood. It is probably these profound feelings that today guide the strength within her artwork.
Ann Dinapoli can be found at Studio #20, on the upper level of the East Wing, or volunteering downstairs as the curator of the PMA private collection.
“PAI on My Mind” contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PAI as a whole.