Tuesday, June 18, 2013

About the Future

Following the Memory Project, the next theme at the Centre for the Living Arts downtown Mobile is a reflection about the future and more specifically, future possibilities for the Gulf Coast. A magnet for community-wide activities to promote "community building through the arts", the center hosts Futures Project, an ambitious program which includes lectures, debates, film screenings, workshops focused on a monthly topic including "childhood and aging", "home, place and public safety", "environment, climate change, predictions and politics, "education and learning, success and failure", "health, wellness and spirituality", "communication, information, knowledge and wisdom", "art and cultural institutions", "races, class, immigration and ethics", "Mobile and downtown economic development". Among these activities, an exhibition featuring local and international artists is on display for nine months in the 16,000 square foot gallery. The building, located in the bustling downtown near coffee shops, restaurants, parks and my preferred bookstore stands out with its graffiti decorations on the outside walls.

Upon entering the vast space and before getting any visual cues, the visitor is immersed in a chatter of computerized voices. Short sentences about the future fill the air, louder then fading away as one  progresses along a large wall calendar filled with daily messages generated by the search of the word "future" on a computer. The grey wall divided by a grid, each small rectangle covered by a daily printed page with the word "future" in red, the monotonous artificial voices, the printer spewing random quotes, all describe an anonymous, emotionless world where computers override our thoughts, an ominous message delivered by 2X4, a global graphic designer company from New York City.
In sharp contrast across the aisle and further in the gallery, the works from Kenny Scharf, well-known graffiti artist from Brooklyn depict a world filled with bright neon pink, blue, green colors. His installations include Cosmic Cavern inspired by the original cavern located in a Brooklyn basement, site of memorable Day-Glo parties, an old model car from the fifties with kitschy decorations and piles of colored trash. A collection of paintings from the late nineties to early 2000's line up the walls. Lunar landscapes, extraterrestrials, cartoonish renditions of popular themes of science-fiction contribute to an out of space atmosphere, but it seems that Scharf's latest vision of the future goes back to the eighties.
On the way to a dark room where a simultaneous projection of videos on the four walls features Future Tense curated by Tom Leeser from CalArts, the sound installation from Nina Waisman is inescapable. Like a sea-monster with its tentacles, the interactive work generates "sounds from far-flung worlds" when activated by the movements of the visitor, promoting an awareness of new physical boundaries around the body by extending its spatial envelope.
In the background, the Pop Boat from Xavier de Richemont glows in the dark. A model of the battleship USS Alabama, slowly painted with light in front of our eyes, takes patriotic colors when covered with American flags, becomes a memorial to the sailors who served on the ship with the projection of photographs and slowly evolves in a final show of pink azaleas. The French artist is famous for his light shows on the façades of buildings and the display is a model for a project in the Mobile harbor.
Filling a space with red balloons, Candy Chang's installation is a festive sight for a serious project about schools.
Aboard the Mothership Part One: Postulations of Myth and Math, the imaginative work about the future from Dawn DeDeaux brings us to a different world somewhat dark and mysterious introduced by two  portraits, hidden behind heavy medieval masks reflecting the landscape, but hiding the eyes. The media itself , digital drawings on steel reinforces the Gothic warrior look. The display includes also large wall panels printed on metal representing southern landscapes and ladders in glass or burned wood, now iconic objects for the artist, the symbol of escape. A whirling stack of painted chairs climbs to the ceiling where the replica of a horse perched 20 feet above the gallery looks down to its reflection on a piece of Plexiglas. With her great sense of staging, DeDeaux succeeds in creating an enchanted world of fairy tales and an escape from history? the future? reality? disasters?

From Scharf's sci-fi pop-happy future to the uncertain dark age from DeDeaux, a stimulating exhibition to think about.

photographs by the author:

detail of the façade Centre for the Living Arts
detail "Cosmic Cavern", Kenny Scharf, 2013
"The School of the Future", Candy Chang, 2013
View of the exhibition, Dawn DeDeaux

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