Dana Costello . . . continued from page 1
In her recent exhibition at the Art Barn’s Finch Lane Gallery, Costello
presented an insightful exhibition exploring the relationship between the
Persephone myth and the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping.
In this exhibit, Costello intertwined the Persephone myth with the Smart
kidnapping in such a way as to reveal the “truth” -- the shared human experience
-- of the stories we call myths. In a series of eight panels, each illuminated
by a single electric candle in a dimly lit room, Costello reveals the intertwined
stories in a sequential narrative. The installation of the panel pieces
and the contemplative atmosphere of the exhibit creates the feel that “Persephone
Revisited” resembles a “Stations of the Cross,” a result, Costello explains,
of her Southern California Catholic school upbringing. Each panel is encircled
by branches; panels number one and eight have leaves, while the others
are dead. With the Christian associations that come with the “Stations
of the Cross” layout, one quickly begins to see other parallels -- the symbols
of rebirth or resurrection and the imagery of a crown of thorns that are
created by the branches. Costello is by no means the first to explore comparative
mythology in art in this way (after all, that is the powerful nature of
symbols), but her insight is to weave into these mythologies her own narrative
straight out of today's headlines.
The most exciting part of “Persephone Revisited” was that in the exhibition
space itself there was no overt statement of the intertwining of the Elizabeth
Smart case with the Persephone myth, so that the realization of what Costello
is doing in the show comes upon one in bits and pieces, and then a sudden
epiphany. I noticed the obvious Utah elements in the first couple of panels,
such as a beehive and a plaque with the Deseret Alphabet. But it was only
when I saw the captured Persephone, dressed in white robes, being married
to Pluto that my own light bulb clicked on.
After the exhibit had come down, I took the opportunity to speak with
Costello about the “Persephone Revisited” and her working methods.
SR: Central to your exhibition is the use of
a myth. How would you define "myth"?
DC: I would say a myth is a narrative interpretation
of one of the many, but finite collection of human experiences--a story
to help us gain a perspective on an aspect of ourselves.
SR: How did the work in your exhibition at the
Art Barn come about?
DC: I, like others, had been fascinated by the
story of the abduction [of Elizabeth Smart] as well as the national media
frenzy surrounding it. I wondered a lot about the public interest and
why this particular abduction was so provoking. I had been living in San
Francisco when a similar abduction occurred to a 14 year old girl named
Polly Klass. Polly was also taken from her bedroom at home and the media
coverage was quite intense. I remember being affected by the story in
a certain personal way. The day they found Elizabeth Smart was a spring
day and when I first heard the news it struck me that she was found at
that time of the year and how it mirrored the Persephone myth. As I thought
about it further, I saw more similarities to the myth and began to understand
why the story was so compelling. I had a show coming up at the Art Barn
and wanted to do something experimental, and so I decided to do a series
of panels telling the story as I saw it.
SR: When you were making your series, were you
focusing on the personal story of Elizabeth or more on how her story
affected the community?
DC: I was very interested in both aspects. I
think the community was so affected because of the strength of the collective
SR: In your panels
you seem to shift back and forth between the general and the specific. For
instance, the two sisters shown in their bedroom is a very specific element
of the story. The way you depict Elizabeth's dress in the underworld after
the "wedding" was striking in how well it identified her. But then you get
rid of other elements of the Smart story, including whole people. We don't
see Elizabeth's father at the reunion or Ms. Barzee in the underworld. What
are the factors that drove your editorial decisions?
DC: I only created panels
showing scenes where the two stories intersected. The panel with the two
sisters in the bedroom actually represents a specific element in both stories.
In both the myth and the Smart story there was a female witness who initially
cannot tell anyone what happened but later is able to. In one version
of the Persephone myth, the abduction was witnessed by a nymph named Cyane.
Cyane would have told the goddess Demeter all that she had seen but dared
not, for fear of Pluto. Eventually, because of her immense grief over the
event she becomes a river of tears (the River Cyane). Demeter, exhausted
by her search, comes to rest by the river and then is drawn to follow it.
The river leads her to the underground where she discovers the imprisoned
Persephone. In another version, a cave dwelling Goddess named Hekate (the
veiled one), knows of the abduction, but does not tell Demeter for 9 days.
Later, Hekate helps recover Persephone by providing torches to illuminate
So, many of the versions have a mute witness aspect that I saw symbolically
played by Elizabeth’s sister Mary Catherine. Therefore, I included her
in the pictures. As I mentioned before, I was very impressed by the striking
similarities between the stories. Other symbolic parallels depicted in
the panels include the “marriage”, the underground dugout Elizabeth was
kept in, the constant search, the Mercury-like ( Mercury is the messenger
of the Gods and rules communications) communication by cellphone that sent
the messages leading to Elizabeth and finally the reunion. I added in pieces
of clothing and media-exposed facts and symbols of Elizabeth (blue tennis
shoes, etc.), Old Utah (Beehives, Deseret Alphabet) and the original myth
(pomegranates) to create a visual blend of the stories, but let the viewer
know the work was alluding to Elizabeth Smart. Every panel is an intersection
between the Persephone myth and the Elizabeth Smart story. I left out factors
that weren’t in both stories.
SR: Has anyone accused you of exploiting Elizabeth's
story? How would you respond to that?
DC: I thought a lot about whether this project
might be considered as exploiting the Elizabeth Smart story. As a result,
in telling the story pictorially I tried to handle some of the more sensational
details as symbolically as possible. My intention was not to create tension
or provocation. What I was most interested in communicating was that the
mythological stories-- which come from our deep collective history-- are
an anthology of common human experiences. I think the Persephone myth basically
portrays loss of innocence as one of it's main themes. This theme has been
explored in many myths because it is an experience had by all of us in
our lifetime. I also think Elizabeth's story was so engrossing to the
public partly because of the emotional climate in the country after the
events of 9/11. It mirrored the event of being invaded and robbed of a sense
of security, which somewhat drove the media frenzy. In short, I felt the
similarities between the stories were so compelling that they could give
a sense of history and understanding to what we experience and do not fully
understand. The fact that difficult subjects are often dealt with by myths
evidences that inside the stories lies a deeper web of the human condition.
It is from this deeper web of the human condition that
Costello's work derives its power. She does not need fancy brushwork or complex
compositions, because her simplified pieces create icons that connect with
the personal and collective psyche. Costello’s series, "Persephone Revisited,"
is a deft intertwining of myths. From the ancient Greeks to Christian symbolism
to local headlines, Costello explores what it is about certain stories that
speaks to the humanity in all of us.
The complete series of "Persephone Revisited" can be viewed at
-- Shawn Rossiter
Information for the news nibbles
section can be sent to:
The deadline for the next issue
is July 20th.
Extended information on many of
these announcements can be found at the
-- The Museum of Utah Art & History has
begun the process of building Salt Lake's newest museum in the heart of
downtown Salt Lake City. MUAH is a cultural institution that will display
the collections of the Utah Arts Council, State Historical Society, and
Utah State Archives. The building is located at 125 S. Main Street, and
is planning to open by December 2004.
A Gala event is scheduled for June 25, 2004 to assist in raising funds
and community support for the Museum. A reception previewing the space will
be held at 125 S. Main Street from 6:00 - 7:00 PM, with a cocktail party
and dinner at the Grand America Hotel beginning at 7:00 PM. Actress and
art patron Diane Keaton will be in attendance to discuss arts in the community.
For more information on the Gala, contact MUAH at 355 - 5554 or visit
--The Utah Center for the Arts, a new community arts center, has opened
its doors at 2191 S. 300 West. The center has programs for children, youths
and adults, in dance, writing and the visual arts. For more information on
the center and its uses call Derek at 651-3937.
--The Salt Lake City public art program announces an opportunity for artists
to be considered for a new program, developed in cooperation with the Downtown
Alliance. The city will commission new work to be exhibited in the eight
permanent information kiosks located on the sidewalks of Main Street, between
South Temple and 400 South. For more information call 596-5000.
-- Salt Lake City artists Karen Horne and
Steve Larson were awarded the Utah Arts Council $5000 fellowships.
-- Artists of Utah's executive director, Shawn Rossiter, has been
awarded the 2004 SLC Mayor's Award for the Visual Arts.
The Mayor's Awards will be presented during the
Utah Arts Festival.
New Call for Entries recently posted to the
Artists of Utah Forum
-- Utah County Art Board Call for Proposals
-- New Visions Gallery Call for New Members
--3rd Annual Rocky Mountain Regional Juried Photography Exhibition