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Environmental sculpture exhibit to open at Phaze 2 Gallery January 18

ISSUED: 12 January 2022

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Kate Helms, a fifth-generation Floridian, environmental scientist, and artist, is presenting her latest solo show, titled “5 Fathoms,” at Shepherd University’s Phaze 2 Gallery in the Center for Contemporary Arts from January 18 to March 7. The opening reception is January 18 from 4-6 p.m., with an artist talk by Helms beginning at 4:30 p.m.

“5 Fathoms” centers around Helms’ fantasies of a luxuriously ornate home being dismantled by the climatic effects of sea level rise and tossed into the ocean, where it becomes an artificial reef for a variety of handmade barnacle, coral, and sponge-like encrustations. In contrast to widespread coral bleaching, which is causing vast swaths of coral reefs to rapidly perish into milky oblivion, these new species spontaneously evolve to thrive in the changing environment.

Incorporating Victorian furniture, the show references the beginnings of the industrial era, in which humans began to substantially contribute to climate change by adding heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Helms uses materials such as clay, cardboard, fabric, fiberglass, and found materials to construct the reefs.

“In this visual environment, corals sprout ears, fingers, eyes, and other uncanny forms, overtaking the furniture,” she said. “They grow sharp human teeth, eager to devour newly sunken habitats. It’s a vision both beautiful and terrifying, presented in hopes to generate a sort of sublime epiphany that as the waters rise, our status as an apex species, particularly in coastal environments, becomes uncertain.”

Helms’ artistic practice is deeply rooted in her experience with often-bizarre aspects of Florida history, culture, and ecology, as well as her concurrent—and often illuminating—career in the environmental sciences. She has exhibited at the Appleton Museum of Art and Boca Raton Museum of Art, both in Florida, and Alexandria Museums of Art in Louisiana, as well as at galleries both domestic and abroad.

Helms is currently a Senior Stormwater Engineer for a local municipality in northern Virginia, where she oversees stormwater pollution prevention efforts. She has previously worked on projects dealing with Everglades restoration, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, oyster restoration, wetlands mitigation, and compliance and enforcement with environmental regulations as a member of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. She has a Bachelor of Science in environmental science, a Bachelor of Arts in art, and a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from the University of Florida.

Phaze 2 Gallery is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 3-5 p.m. or by appointment. For more information about the exhibit or to schedule a visit, contact the Evan Boggess, gallery director.

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