Watching the opening “Star Wars” crawl was not something Matthew Dehnel experienced until he was 10 years old. Unlike many 10-year-olds however, Dehnel was not entranced by the storyline or characters in the sci-fi film, but was instead fascinated by what went on behind the scenes.
“All I could notice was that someone had built the sets and props,” the sculpting major said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god I want to build the death star.’”
Now over 10 years later, Dehnel’s dream of creating stage designs and sets has come to fruition in his exhibit “Greetings from America” in the School of Art Galleries at Long Beach State.
The gallery features both vintage and vintage-inspired items and artworks centralized around the idea of the atomic era in America. Some items displayed include brochures, food, water cans and a cartoon video.
The main attraction of the gallery is a 500-square-foot fallout shelter created entirely out of wood and street signs titled “Wasteland Road Trip 2018.” Dehnel created this set piece after receiving retired street signs that added to his long-time sign collection which he started at 16.
He described the shelter as looking and feeling post-apocalyptic due to the materials he used because he believes it looks comparable to something out of the television show “The Walking Dead.”
Coinciding with the atomic era theme, Dehnel also displayed a trinitite sample, fused sand from the first nuclear bomb in 1945 and cans of purified water from 1953. Dehnel purchased these items on eBay and wanted to display them because he felt as though they added to the gallery’s theme.
The artist said he hopes attendees of his gallery take in the many elements of his collection and take time not only to ponder its vintage influence but to reflect on ways it may resonate with them.
“Maybe you’re scared or a bit nervous — I want you to think about the way you feel and what you feel,” Dehnel said.
Freshman physics major Eve Khatami attended Dehnel’s gallery and described her initial reaction to the gallery as “a bit confused” before reading into the theme.
“When you walk in you don’t expect to see all these things in here,” Khatami said. “It looks really cool.”
Dehnel’s detail-oriented and eclectic approach to his exhibit is something that he hopes to take with him after graduating this semester. Following his early dreams of building props and sets as a child, Dehnel’s career goal is to create props, sets, animatronics and “dark rides,” which is an indoor amusement park rides.
Dehnel also works as a Sculpture Department Tech at LBSU and hopes to get an internship after graduating to learn as much as he can about his desired career.
“Everything I’ve done in the last six years was entirely focused on that one goal,” Dehnel said. “I want to watch some science fiction movie in ten years and tell my kids, ‘I made that costume’ or, ‘I made that prop.’”
Fellow BFA sculpture major Joshua Thomen has taken several classes with Dehnel at LBSU and has seen Dehnel’s interest in war-time media and his progression with his art.
“I’ve seen him evolve into a really thoughtful artist and a really strong support here in the [sculpture] program,” Thomen said.
“Greetings from America” among other student galleries can be viewed in the Fine Arts Building at LBSU on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. and Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m.