Friday, August 31, 2018

Along the River








White Linen Night is over. Time to go back to the galleries and look at art!
At the Contemporary Arts Center, Constructing the Break, an Open Call exhibition curated by Allison M. Glenn, is dedicated to the Mississippi River. It assembles the works from thirty artists sharing close or loose links to New Orleans. Their diverse backgrounds and practices enrich the multi-media exhibition located in the main gallery on the building's first floor.

The show starts with Tar, 2018, a Gothic tale of destruction by Joris Lindhout. The installation is made of two videos, a stack of newspapers laid on the floor tied with a black string, an iPad held by two black hands on the wall and an old tape player on a stand. The devices are connected through black wires hanging from the ceiling. The story unfolds on the bigger screen where a glob of oil drips, drops, becomes a creepy substance invading its surroundings and eventually the world. A prescient performance by Joseph Beuys recorded in 1974 in the Gulf of Mexico is displayed on a smaller screen. It shows the artist coating himself with the black goo in the middle of a green bog. On the iPad's screen, a humorous scoop about the FBI looking for a MoMA's curator taken away by a mysterious kidnapper leaving black prints, is accompanied by advertisements for backyard fracking. The introduction gives the vibe to the rest of the exhibition which features an abstract representation of the goddess of fresh water, Oshun by Anastasia Pelias, and three wall pieces from Julie Morel about loss and memory through maps drawn with technologies involving GPS, LED's and conductive ink. Undertow, 2015-2018, the site specific post-industrial installation from Elliott Stockes is made of parts from oil distillation equipment laid on the gallery's vast open floor. Displacement, 2018, an interactive piece from Nurhan Gokturk features two newspaper vending machines side by side in which mirrors reflect deconstructed images of ourselves and our environment. Gabrielle Garcia Steib's mixed-media installation involves sound and photographs to tackle a hot issue, immigration, while Ana Hernandez gets us back to the subject of fracking with two pieces of her series Altering Internal Landscapes: In pursuit of unearthing bodies of Energy. "Visual representation of ecological trauma", The Haynesville, 2017, and The Bakken, 2017, combine Netters Anatomical Flash Cards with a depiction of the formations pierced by nails, evoking pain, thus life. The wounded rocks next to the description of human flesh become living matter by analogy. Annah Chalew makes her own canvasses with trash and plants resulting in unique brown monochrome landscapes. Her wall piece Root Shock II, 2018, combines opposite qualities: primal, sophisticated, coarse, delicate, heavy, light, tough, fragile, ..., and benefits from a close-up view. The life-size photograph of a tree with hanging moss, glowing in the last ray of sun against a soft pinkish sky, perfect picture for My Beautiful South, 2018, from Cynthia Scott, is spoiled by a metal pipe protruding from the tree trunk. Its orifice is covered by a small round screen on which a video is projected. It was shot by the artist along the river's bank and documents the green pastures giving way to industrial complexes and pollution. In Daybew, 2018, Mississippi Swan, a virtual artist born from the collaboration between Rick Snow, (Mississippi River in New Orleans) and Chris Tonkin, (Swan River in Perth), mixes the sounds of two far away cities to obtain scores of electronic music accompanied by colorful graphics flashing like advertisements.
The piece is a great transition to what feels like the second part of the exhibition, dominated by photographs and videos. Twenty black and white or color photographs from eight  local photographers gathered on a wall convey their vision of the city and its people.
 Across, the sixteen-minute video featuring the sculptor Maren Hassinger and her daughter, is a performance piece born from the interaction between artist, landscape, wind, water, and a white scarf. The poetic images are followed by Thy Glad Beams, 2016, from Wiley Aker, a mixture of footage from news and archives in black and white accompanied by an ominous background music resulting in a dramatic end of the world atmosphere. Preceded by three minimalist sculptures made with  concrete from Jack Niven, the conclusion of the show is an epic tale of the Mississippi river, told in less than ten minutes. With its dense content, There's Something in the Water: Yemoja and Osun, 2018, the video from Tia-Simone Gardner deserves to be watched several times to get the full grasp of its historical, geographical, sociological, architectural, poetical references. 
Each of the thirty artists gets to shine in the well-paced display. The coherence of the selected works, their quality and relevance to the subject, make the whole exhibition flow from start to end without a glitch. Lately, viewers have seen a lot of political art. This time, the artists made their point through a whole gamut of expressions more powerful and inspirational than slogans .
They all communicate their unconditional love for the city, the river and the South, and along with it, the "concept of being rooted consistently tempered by infrastructural fragility".



photographs by the author:

Cynthia Scott "My Beautiful South", 2018
Ana Hernandez "The Haynesville" and "The Bakken", 2017
View of Tia-Simone Gardner's installation "There's Something in the Water: Yemoja and Osun" 


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