Sympathy, empathy, and reflection are what Rudy Shepherd, associate professor of art, hopes his series of Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber sculptures bring to their audience.
“Though I didn’t necessarily envision these sculptures as a series, I feel that they continue to make sense as a positive gesture to tragic events that continue to unfold in the world around us, and the attempt to expunge negative energy from the viewer as a response to those events,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd was in his third year of a pre-med trajectory as an undergraduate student when he took his first art class, igniting his passion for art, and leading him to graduate with degrees in both art and biology. Although his graduate studies focused solely on art, the concept of healing, addressed in his pre-med classes, still influences his work today.
The tragic events of 9/11 have also had a profound effect on Shepherd’s creative process, but his work has always been inspired by tragedies in the world around us, and the political views tied to them. After 15 years of creating political art where his pieces were tied to a specific event or tragedy, Shepherd found that the more specific the piece, the more room for debate and adversarial conversation. This encouraged a different approach when he came up with the concept for his Black Rock Negative Energy Absorbers.
“These sculptures are meant to be a counterpoint to what can seem like vast, unsolvable problems,” he said.
While his sculptures are still very much intended to be a reflection of tragic events happening in our world, and may be tied to a specific event for him, Shepherd leaves it up to the viewers to interpret and connect to the sculpture in their own individual way. He envisioned the Black Rock Negative Energy Absorbers as a peaceful space for open dialogue and healing, encouraging viewers to look at situations around them in a more sympathetic way. “Though viewers may have differing opinions, the atmosphere of empathy that the Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber brings lends to more open dialogues and healing,” he said. “The sculptures act as a mechanism to expunge negative energy from viewers, enabling them to respond to life in more open, compassionate and positive ways.”
Shepherd carefully selects quiet spaces in low-traffic areas for each installation — a place where one can have a reflective moment. Each Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber is constructed on-site using wood armature, with metal lathe, covered with two layers of concrete, and painted black. The size of each is a response to the space in which it is created. To Shepherd, the color black represents “issues of race and fear, being black himself, and the dark force that the sculptures are intended to fight against, representing what they are meant to counter.”
Shepherd “turns on” his installations with a performance, in which he transforms into “Healer,” a character representative of what the sculpture would look like if it came to life. During the performance, accompanied by live music, Shepherd’s character activates the sculpture so that it can begin absorbing negative energy.
In August, Shepherd installed a Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber on Penn State’s University Park campus, behind the Visual Arts Building, as part of the upcoming Penn State School of Visual Arts faculty exhibition Expanded Practice on display in the Palmer Museum of Art, October 18 – December 11, and Expanded Practice – In Site, on display in SoVA’s Edwin W. Zoller Gallery, October 17 – November 2.
This project was made possible by a grant from Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities.