For Jesse Potts, crafting art can sometimes feel like performing a magic trick.
Just as a magician pulls a rabbit from a hat, an artist “can make things suddenly appear,” Potts said.
Potts, a 35-year-old mixed-media artist, recently demonstrated his wizardry when, in just two days, he and a group of students at University of Maine at Augusta made a small house appear in one of the school’s art galleries.
In fact, the structure isn’t complete. Black asphalt shingles cover half of the roof, but the rest of the house is festooned with blue tarpaulins and a weather resistant wrap. Two yellow lines run parallel across the shingled side of the roof, raising the question: Is this a home, a road or something in between?
And why, the viewer wonders, is rain falling on this dwelling that’s got a road instead of a roof?
The installation, along with several other pieces by Potts, is part of an exhibit called “The Flood,” which opened Nov. 2 and will run until Dec. 9 in the Danforth Gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta.
Potts works as an assistant professor at University of Maine at Farmington, but he was invited to create an exhibit for the Augusta gallery by its director, Robert Rainey.
The main piece of the exhibit is the home installation, which is also titled “The Flood.” Made out of pine lumber, it is 24 feet long, 18 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Potts pre-fabricated those pieces two months ahead of the installation.
But its size is obscured by the fact that it stands in a small, lower level in the middle of the gallery, so visitors end up looking down on the roof, as if they were floating just above it.
“I really wanted to have people looking down at something they normally look up at, to invert the relationship with the roof,” Potts said during a short lecture about the exhibit Wednesday afternoon.
The exhibit includes several other smaller pieces.
In one set of prints, Potts has taken portraits of himself, his wife and their young son, then superimposed flattened pieces of food over them and scanned the end product. The results are bright, colorful family photos made all the brighter and more colorful by the squashed banana, berries and granola over them.
In another part of the exhibit, Potts has printed satellite images from Google maps of several places he has lived — including Bennington, Vermont; Richmond, Virginia; and Helena, Montana — and placed them on a canvas. He has then sanded out circles in the center of each canvas and scattered the dust over separate black canvases positioned below the maps.
In each of the pieces, Potts said, he is exploring the intersection of place, memory and time. The idea of the road is an important one to Potts, he said, because he has lived in many places over the years.
Only two years ago did Potts and his wife purchase and start fixing up their first home in Farmington, a milestone that he appreciated reaching because it allowed them “to buy into a community,” Potts said, but that he also found “terrifying.”
There’s a touch of terror in the exhibit at UMA, if only because of its name, “The Flood,” which suggests the powers of nature that can dislocate people from their homes. In the house now on display at the gallery, Potts created a closed sprinkler system that streams water down one side of the installation’s roof, into the gutter and back through a series of tubes.
The University of Maine at Augusta has devoted this school year to focusing on the issue of climate change, which has led to greater flooding and less reliable weather patterns around the world.
Potts was not thinking specifically about climate change when he made the pieces on display, he said, but he did recognize the ways that natural disasters can complicate people’s relationships with their own homes, whether because they have had to move or rebuild.
“Peril and progression are certainly part of the work,” Potts wrote in a statement about the installation. “It is a matter of interpretation whether the home is in the process of being built, or repaired, or being demolished. The questions posed are, how do we value and interpret the meaning of ‘home’? And, how do we confront the unknown?”
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642