Betty Bastai wants you to write her a love letter. There are only two rules: it must be hand written, and you must let her rip it up and throw it on the floor to mingle with the other letters she receives. The letters will become part of her installation art show “Naked Voyage,” opening in the VU Gallery on February 21. In this show, Bastai is trying to invite the public into her work and break down the cold intimidation that people often feel upon entering an art gallery, where everything is off limits to senses other than your eyes, and “you feel like you can’t breathe.”

Writing a love letter is one way that you can engage with her artwork in a more hands-on manner than many art shows offer.
Kelly Warner said that since starting her job as the VU Gallery coordinator she has wanted to bring an installation art show to Western. “I don’t think many people here are exposed to installation art,” she said. After seeing Bastai’s portfolio, Warner was inspired to book her because she fit this bill perfectly.

As you walk through the mixed media art exhibit, you will see large scale drawings both hanging on the walls and suspended from the ceiling, x-ray images, sketchbook pages and the infamous confetti love letters, exploring the ideas of internal and external environment, the human body, language and memory, and all the details that are put together to make a map of ones life.

“Because of the focus on the body, and because the [gallery] space is so big, I wanted to divide it up into smaller spaces, to make space within the space,” said Bastai. She combined the overarching theme of the body with this division of space to create four “cells.” The way the cells organize the space allows for a show with a unified theme that is explored through the different format, medium and intention of a separate series in each cell. “The images are bouncing to each other. Its almost like lots of mirrors where the images are reflecting each other,” she said.

The exhibit showcases work integrating the media of pencil, clay, text, x-rays, and pastels. Some of these works have been displayed previously in galleries all over Europe and Washington State, while others are new creations. Work from her “Jekill and Hide” series, inspired by her father’s death, fills the first cell. This series contains spiraling words and phrases, woven through the rich and textured drawings of pelvic skeletal structure and the lungs, displayed in large-scale drawings hanging on the wall. The second cell goes more scientific, using actual x-ray images to tackle ideas of pain and healing in her “Forensics” series.

The two other cells draw inspiration from a less scientific perspective on the body. Along with an acute interest in science, Bastai is fascinated with beliefs that have no scientific grounding.
She uses the medium of clay to express this because, “clay suggests the creation of man. It is not as scientific, and reflects another side of us that is not related to science. The belief in this creation narrative- not because of scientific proof, but because you believe in it, is grounded in questions of how the world came about… basically through belief you answer that kind of question.”

Whether you are interested in science, nature, belief, identity, relationships, love, or just art in general, this show is worth checking out. And don’t be afraid to participate! Bastai said that her former career as a forest archeologist taught her how to examine and engage with her environment, and the interactive intention of this exhibit tries to share that experience.

“Every single detail, no matter how small it is, it’s really important. When you get all those pieces together, it’s a little clue. Hopefully people are curious enough to pick up the pieces and investigate them,” she said.

“Naked Voyage” will be on display in the VU Gallery from February 21 through March 15. Bastai will give a talk from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on February 22 in VU 552, followed by an opening reception in the gallery space.