For twenty-one years, Carole Fisher has not been able to forget the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that devastated Prince William Sound in Alaska. While most Americans ceased paying attention much after the initial media blitz, Fisher has continued to consult and collect newspaper articles, official pamphlets, books, websites, touristic memorabilia, photographs, and even oil samples. In 1990, 1999, and 2010, she traveled from Minneapolis to Anchorage, and then to Cordova, Homer, Anchor Point, Whittier, and to the Prudhoe Bay pipeline terminus in Valdez. The focus of these trips—which were funded in part with grants and fellowships from the Jerome, McKnight, and Bush Foundations—has been to interview and re-interview people, over one hundred of them, whose lives were immediately affected by the catastrophic oil spill and continue to be today. Fisher has culled from all of these materials—recorded, constructed, found, and printed—to produce more than forty exhibitions and presentations dedicated to the Alaska Oil Spill Project.
Many authorities can speak out about the inherent risks of unfettered oil development, particularly in the Arctic, but Fisher’s messages—her calls to action—are different. Facts and stories intermingle, they come to life in the form of scattered words and images, of sounds and silences. Like Fisher’s previous multimedia installations, Sticks in the Mind combines new technologies with old ones. From printed words and painted images to interactive chalkboards and audio files, the exhibition will give voice to the people whose livelihoods have been utterly transformed, and it will speak to the spill’s ongoing environmental impact on the region.
Although the Alaska Oil Spill Project has been Fisher’s longest and most sustained artistic investigation, other bodies of work have confronted such difficult subjects as rape, incest, toxic waste sites, the Challenger explosion, the secret zinc cadmium sulfate spraying of her childhood neighborhood, elementary school during the Cold War*, and 9/11. Over several decades, these projects have been exhibited across the county and abroad—in group shows at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, the Galleria Del Cavallino in Venice, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles, and in numerous solo exhibitions, including shows at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Soho20 in NY, and Raw Space, ARC Gallery in Chicago.
Fisher received an MFA from the Pennsylvania State University, a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), and an AA from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. She began teaching at MCAD in 1979, rising to the rank of full professor and serving in many important capacities including chair of the fine arts department and director of the MFA and post-baccalaureate programs before her retirement in the summer of 2010. In addition, Fisher was one of the original artist founders and organizers of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and was a member of their first artist curatorial panel. She has also served on the Minneapolis Arts Commission and was a founding member of the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM).
*Note pages 60–65 in Clouds of Secrecy: The Army’s Germ Warfare Tests Over Populated Areas by Leonard A. Cole [Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 1989]