June 2004
Page 3
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.

panel 2

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 personal effect.

 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?

panel 5 detail

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 the search.

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 http://www.machinage.com/dana/index4.html

-- 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 AoU Forum .


-- 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 www.muahnet.org .

--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 include:

-- Utah County Art Board Call for Proposals
-- New Visions Gallery Call for New Members
--3rd Annual Rocky Mountain Regional Juried Photography Exhibition

glass art guild of utah