Art that is considered political or even contentious can make viewers uncomfortable.

And that's OK with artist Brittney West.

"Being uncomfortable with things happening in the world is a healthy response, not something we should stray from or censor," she said.

West's animal-advocacy art may elicit such reactions in her new solo exhibit, "As Animals." The exhibit opens Monday in the South Santiam Hall Gallery at Linn-Benton Community College.

"I created this whole body of work out of discomfort," West said.

A main feature in the exhibit is an installation titled, "Into the Fold," which displays hundreds of small origami cows made out of traditional origami paper and vintage meat and dairy recipes.

"This installation will replicate the production line where these cows will be hanging upside down from hooks, strung across the wire," West said, "The act of producing each origami cow perhaps echoes the monotonous act of 'processing' billions of mass-produced animals."

For West, a Corvallis resident, a native of Eugene and a University of Oregon graduate, the work for this exhibit evolved from years of research into environmental and animal advocacy.

"It was also informed by three years of working on the retail side of animal agriculture, in the meat and cheese department at a grocery store," West said.

For most of her life, West said, she didn't ask many questions about the origin of her food. But difficult experiences in that line of work led to her curiosity about animal rights issues.

West watched dozens of documentaries and undercover footage of animal abuse in factory farms, read books and articles, and visited local meat, dairy farms and animal rescues.

"I couldn't shake this desire to reduce unnecessary suffering happening to animals and our environment," she said.

"These experiences and realizations propelled me in a new direction of activism, changing my consumer choices, and creating conceptual activist art about relevant and urgent issues that pertain to us all," she added.

In the exhibit, West also displays prints, mixed-media drawings, and oil paintings that depict various exaggerated celebrations of animal consumption.

"The series of paintings examines the normalization of slaughter and the ease with which we not only accept mass slaughter, but fetishize its products as a way of turning explicit violence into something tacit and manageable," West said in an artist's statement.

She said her goal isn't to visually berate audiences with scenes of violence, but to address a contentious issue from a place of compassion, free from simplistic condemnation or unproductive anger.

She hopes that the art initiates meaningful conversations.

Animal imagery can be a contrast of cute and funny or gruesome images of animals suffering in slaughterhouses, which can cause viewers to look away, West said. She wants this exhibit to land somewhere in the middle.

"If you like glitter and gold, captivating shapes and colors, interesting shapes and compositions and experimentation, I think the audience will enjoy this exhibition, even if the conceptual aspect is not as appreciated," West said.

West has an art studio in downtown Corvallis where every third Thursday of the month (except in March due to this exhibit) she participates in the Corvallis Arts Walk.

West has shown her artwork throughout Corvallis at The Arts Center, Oregon State University's LaSells Stewart Center, and in the Footwise window gallery, in addition to venues in Eugene, Philomath and Alsea.

She's had exhibitions in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco and internationally.

"I've exhibited in Paris, France, Munich, Germany, and soon to be in Barcelona, Spain," she said. "I have artwork in the world's largest collection of animal rights artists, The Sheppard Collection in London."

Pieces on display in her exhibit will be for sale, with a portion of all proceeds going to the Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, an animal rescue facility in Scio where West volunteers.

West said her exhibit "touches on the fact we humans are animals, and encourages exploring our personal relationship to nonhuman animals. What happens to animals directly affects humans and the environment. We're all connected, all affected, all dependent on each other's well-being."

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