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'Point Pleasant': Exhibit captures 'haunting beauty' of West Virginia Ordnance Works

staff report • Jan 20, 2013 at 4:54 AM

East Tennessee State University’s Department of Art & Design and Slocumb Galleries are going big with their newest exhibit, featuring large-scale photographs by Joshua Dudley Greer.

Presented in partnership with USA Projects and ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, “Point Pleasant” will remain on display in Slocumb Galleries through Feb. 8. An artist’s lecture and reception is planned for 5 to 7 p.m., Jan. 24 in the Ball Hall Auditorium.

According to Greer, the photographs featured in the exhibition are images of “the ruins of a once monumental military-industrial complex as it tangles with the surrounding landscape of forest, fields and swamp.”

The subject of “Point Pleasant” is West Virginia Ordnance Works, formerly an explosives manufacturing facility outside Point Pleasant, W.Va., constructed specifically for the production and storage of trinitrotoluene, or TNT, during World War II. Declared surplus and closed in 1945, the WVOW land, occupying 8,000 acres along the eastern bank of the Ohio River, was deeded to the state of West Virginia and eventually became the McClintic State Wildlife Management Area.

Ponds and wetlands were constructed as habitats for wildlife species, and the site became a popular local hangout that came to be known as T.N.T.

In the early 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the groundwater, soil and surface water at T.N.T. as heavily contaminated with explosive compounds. Though extensive cleanup was initiated in 1991, many of the toxic contaminants were simply buried on site.

Greer describes the site as “a haunting place of beauty, mystery and violence.” Employing an 8x10 view camera, he photographed structures that “offer a glimpse of what has transpired on this site, many of which refer indirectly to violence and environmental neglect through metaphor.”

Inspired by its complex history, Greer views the remnants of the WVOW facility “as relics to our nation’s violent history, while the re-purposed landscape hides much of its true nature just beneath the surface.”

A prominent series of works in the “Point Pleasant” exhibition feature the TNT storage igloos. Greer depicted these structures “in a serial typology to convey the massive scale of contemporary weapons production, while the emptiness of the landscape, photographed with a muted palette and diffused light, is meant to evoke a kind of post-apocalyptic environment — one that is at times bleak and somber, yet also strangely resilient and beautiful.”

Greer is a visiting faculty member teaching digital photography in ETSU’s Department of Art & Design. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia in Athens.

His “Point Pleasant” series was featured at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s “Contemporary Focus” exhibition in 2012.

Slocumb Galleries are located in Ernest C. Ball Hall on the ETSU campus in Johnson City.

The galleries are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, with extended hours during receptions and scheduled tours.

Admission is free.

For more information, call Director Karlota Contreras-Koterbay at (423) 483-3179 or email her at contrera@etsu.edu. Additional information can be found online at www.etsu.edu/cas/art/slocumb. To find out more about the artist, visit www.jdudleygreer.com.

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