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Art exhibit examines divide at Idaho, Washington line

Artist Kelley O’Brien’s show “Behold! The Sun Comes Over a Mountain” opens today at Richmond Art Collective. (Kelley O’Brien)
Artist Kelley O’Brien’s show “Behold! The Sun Comes Over a Mountain” opens today at Richmond Art Collective. (Kelley O’Brien)

Kelley O’Brien’s art exhibit “Behold! The Sun Comes Over a Mountain” is a multidisciplinary art experience that explores regional history, geography and nature along the Idaho-Washington border.

“I wanted to look at the cooperative relationships between these two states, specifically focusing on a lot of historical, archival research,” O’Brien said.

Before statehood, the two states were part of the same territory, she said. “I’ve been looking at why they put the border where they did and when and really how we decide on these divisions between ourselves and others and how that kind of plays into a cultural identity, but then also looking at the instances in which these divisions don’t work as we hope they would.”

The exhibit opens today and closes Friday with reception at sunset, allowing audiences to fully experience O’Brien’s lighting installation, which controls gallery lighting by mapping the light in both Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

O’Brien examined nature’s indifference to manmade borders during her two-month residency with Laboratory Spokane, the organization funding the project. To do so, she ventured into nature, doing such things as walking the border of Idaho and Washington – with one foot in each state – to map trees with roots in both states. She calls the trees dual citizens.

“Nature doesn’t respect these ideas and manmade borders,” O’Brien said of her findings.

She cites two nearly identical mountains – just 7 miles apart – that are separated only by the state border of Idaho and Washington.

“These two mountains are almost the same elevation, within 100 feet of each other and they both have the same name,” said O’Brien.

For the project, O’Brien filmed the sunrise and the sunset over one mountain from the opposite mountain.

Other interactive works pull from O’Brien’s research about how Washington and Idaho were separated.

“I’m hoping that perhaps people will bring their own political situations and ideas about borders to this work and that perhaps this can be a kind of fodder for a conversation about the political nuances of borders,” she said.

The design of the gallery also lends itself to the overall theme of the work. One side will become the Idaho side, and one side will represent Washington. The two sides will each have different lighting, and will be separated by a nearly translucent Mica vein – using pieces of the mineral found in both Idaho and Washington – that O’Brien hopes will dissipate and fade as audiences walk over it.

“It may be another type of moment to kind of think about the division of resources across borders or how we can claim ownership of things but then how these things are expanding and contracting across time and space on their own,” said O’Brien.


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