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December 16, 2019

New ‘Rebuilding Babel’ Art Exhibition Features Work by Jeremy Phillips

The fine arts department will host a new art exhibition titled “Rebuilding Babel” on Thursday, January 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Asheville School’s Walker Art Center. This artwork by artist Jeremy Phillips will be on display from January 9 to February 29.

Read the artist’s statement by Jeremy Phillips:

“Back in Babel times, so the story goes, the people of the world banded together in unity to make a city with a great tower in the middle. They did this so they could make their mark on the world.  But the god who made these people thought this project encouraged human arrogance and pride.  He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” So, in order to stop this civilization from building up, this god made the people speak different languages.  He caused social and linguistic confusion and the city was left unfinished.  This half-built tower of Babel would later become Babylon, the storied capital of ancient empires and a Judeo-Christian symbol of vain human power and hubris, doomed to destruction.

I’m conflicted over the implications of this story.  Civilization, which requires human cooperation and unity, and leads to the fruits of cultural aspirations, such as art and architecture, makes human life rich, complex and beautiful. Yet, in making civilization, humans have nearly destroyed the world upon which we depend and of which we are a part. Was the divine disorientation a way to save the planet from the “blessings” of civilization?

Or, should we reject the divinely sanctioned confusion and learn the languages, cross the borders, find our common purpose and finish the tower of Babel?  Don’t we need unity now most of all?  Is it really a divine will that perpetuates our digital, political, social, and generational confusion?  Could Babel instead become a symbol of hope?

These paintings riff on Pieter Breugel’s two 16th century paintings of the Tower of Babel.  My modern variations hint at layer cakes, machine parts, piles of shopping boxes, spools of ribbon, ancient ziggurats, Mayan pyramids, as well as stacked impossible combinations. Many are painted on found fabrics and discarded quilts, picked up for peanuts at thrift stores. By painting on what is at hand, I am excavating the fabric of an older time and making it a repurposed foundation for a new thing.

I want these paintings to be tangible physical objects that remind you that they are tangible physical objects.  They are constructed, not willy-nilly, but with foresight.  These are some fruits of civilization, products of a long painting conversation, open to your intelligible interpretation. Let’s build together.”