Imaginative art exhibit opens downtown and inspires students

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Hailey Hentz, Staff Writer

“Extremophilia: A G’NATural History,” is an inventive and experimental exhibit on display at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids. The exhibit displays work created by local artists Natalie “G’NAT” Wetzel and GVSU alumni Mark Andrus.

Wetzel and Andrus’ exhibition presents the experience of forging a story through a multimedia science fiction film with supplementing artwork. The display intertwines photographs, sculptures and drawings to create an immersive experience full of relics and storytelling.

“Inspired by natural history exhibits that weave entangled histories and memories, this project pulls characters apart as psychological projections,” Wetzel and Andrus said. “The work takes time to experience because it has seven projections. This reflects the overarching idea of discovering one’s past.”

The project, which began in 2016 as a short film, was recorded during a road trip through Canada, Brooklyn and the Adirondack mountains in northern New York. Later, the duo took filming to countries such as Germany, Czechia and Denmark. 

“(We) strive to make work that is both rich in concept and enjoyable to experience,” Wetzel and Andrus said. 

The exhibit aims to take viewers on a voyage through artwork and storytelling. Wetzel and Andrus said the exhibit’s vast inclusion of artistic mediums garners attention in the Grand Rapids area and artistic community.

Wetzel is a transdisciplinary artist and associate professor at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. She has worked as a designer and performer as well as explored modeling. Working with Andrus, the duo lectured internationally in Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Andrus is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. Focusing on photography, cinematography and producing, his work spans numerous forms. Having shared aspirations to create captivating projects, they launched on an artistic mission. 

“We initially met through mutual friends, and began working together right away,” Wetzel and Andrus said. 

The pair runs The Moon, a creative studio based in Grand Rapids. The studio focuses on photo and video production in addition to supporting exhibitions. They bring local artists together with those outside of the Grand Rapids area to foster artistic collaboration. 

“Our studio is a labor of love. It evolves with each project we do,” Wetzel and Andrus said. 

The Moon works with college students to provide residencies and internships for collaborative artistic opportunities overseen by the studio. So far it has hosted three GVSU students to be a part of their work. Students viewing the exhibition can experience the unearthing of ideas, much like the process behind it. 

“Our film and the resultant exhibition has amounted to a demanding, seven-year undertaking,” Wetzel and Andrus said. “With some exceptions and important collaborations, the two of us produced, wrote, storyboarded, directed, styled, lit, shot, acted and edited it on our own.”

Additionally, they hope an inspiration can be found for college students. Wetzel and Andrus emphasized the importance of the creative process and their exhibition’s completion. 

“We want students to know that if they want to put the effort in, they can design their own path,” Wetzel and Andrus said.

Those interested in viewing the exhibition can learn more through the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts’ website. The display is free and will be open to the public until Feb. 11. More information about Wetzel, Andrus and The Moon can be found on their website.