Divorce inspires ‘After The Sky Has Fallen’

By Randi Alu

The topic of divorce often evokes silence and sadness, but one artist has used this negative… “After The Sky Has Fallen”

Jill Larson

709 Penn Gallery

(412) 471-6070

The topic of divorce often evokes silence and sadness, but one artist has used this negative experience as inspiration.

Jill Larson’s exhibit “After the Sky Has Fallen,” showing at the 709 Penn Gallery downtown through Feb. 20, is an installation piece celebrating her re-emergence after an arduous divorce process.

Larson’s inspiration for the exhibit raises questions about the impact divorce has on our society. Speaking on the way the idea of divorce has affected current views of relationships, Pitt sociology professor Christine Whelan said, “Although the divorce rate isn’t as high as you’d think among college graduates, it is in the back of couples’ minds. ‘’Til death do us part’ is now ‘until someone better comes along.’ Americans love the institution of marriage, so much so that they do it over and over.”

In “After the Sky Has Fallen,” soft light emphasizes a 12-foot cocoon meticulously woven from thousands of divorce documents. Larson said that making the piece “wasn’t therapeutic at all. I am pretty removed from that time in my life, so I shredded them very methodically.

But she did pay attention to what the words conveyed when she crafted the structure.

“I wanted slight variation — whether it was two sentences or three showing. I was particular if certain words showed, and the placement of where they were on the cocoon wasn’t entirely random,” she said.

The cocoon hangs over a dirt bed which gives the room an earthy, natural smell. The dirt is scattered with the “fallen sky:” glass boxes showing images of the sky and filled with water.

Warm-toned, monochromatic photos titled “Under the Covers” hang from the walls, communicating the comforting feeling and safety of a different type of self-made cocoon. The images are intended to be reminiscent of childhood, when a hide-out under bedcovers was “a peaceful and tranquil place during times of turmoil,” according to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

The paper cocoon itself is sculpted as if bursting open and empty inside, intimating the image of a butterfly finally emancipated from the entrapment of a tragic ordeal.

“It is common after any traumatic event, including divorce, to feel the need to ‘reemerge,’” Whelan said. Larson’s installation makes this rebirthing idea a visual experience.

“One of the things I try to do in my artwork is take something that is not necessarily a good experience and transforming it into more of a beautiful object,” Larson said.

The work of art was ultimately the combination of personal endeavor and social commentary on the prevalence of divorce.

“My artwork commonly comes from a personal place, but I think it speaks on a universal level,” Larson said. “I’m not alone in this experience.”