“Anthropocene Blues” Exhibition


poster for “Anthropocene Blues” Exhibition
[Image: Cynthia Mason "Limp Pricks" (2018)]

This event has ended.

Curated by Jane Ursula Harris

While a quick search on Google reveals several sources for the origins of the phrase Anthropocene Blues, this exhibition takes its name and inspiration from an eponymous Anne Waldman poem of 2012. With an almost quaint ring to it, the term’s reference to our growing social anxiety over the impending death of nature is nonetheless gravely real. Waldman, one of the last great living Beat poets, reminds us of that in her poem, its opening stanza reading like an elegy:

sound de-territorializes
and my love clings to you
sings to you
in the “new weathers”
within a tragedy
of the Anthropocene

In organizing the Wayfarers exhibition around this elegiac theme, I hope to also sound a clarion call, echoing Waldman’s impetus for her poem, which she describes as “alarm at the continuing prevalence of climate change ignorance and the thrust of recent political events.” The following descriptions offer a way to consider the exhibition’s individual works in this context.

Kate Alboreo’s painting Mongrel, 2019, features a tree-like form that grows bulbous mounds of pink flesh, nipples, and fingernails from its roots amid a red forest floor. Dominated by blue hues, it suggests the alchemy of sky and water into its system as well. The resulting humanoid creature is both fecund and grotesque, expansive and cannibalistic. “My plant bodies perform survival and adaptation through metamorphosis, sex, and the slow violence of cohabitation.” She writes, hinting at the work’s darker aspects, and perhaps its title.

Yael Azoulay’s True Cover, 2019, projects a video of a Eucalyptus tree (shot in Israel), onto a tree-shaped screen depicting a landscape in Wisconsin. The Eucalyptus is an Australian tree that was brought to Israel, the artist’s native country, to dry up swamps in the early 20th century. A paradoxical symbol of home and migration, the tree in True Cover never quite fits in, its projected image becoming vivid when the landscape is dark, and dissolving under light. In the context of the current global refugee crisis, it becomes a metaphor for the profound sense of cultural alienation that such physical displacement causes.

Ornamental Prop, 2013, by Brian Davis is a work based on an early Richard Serra sculpture that consists of an illuminated chandelier rotated 90 degrees and wedged into a corner of the room. The light is supported by a steel post, and is leafed in 23K gold. Deprived of its former glory, it stands like a relic from some by-gone era lighting the way toward an uncertain future.

George Ferrandi’s Jump!Star, 2019, represented here by a photograph taken by Tod Seelie, is a multimedia, collaborative project inspired by the North Star, or Polaris. Involving scientists, musicians, and artists, the project imagines and anticipates the celestial moment - some 1,000 years away - when the earth will rotate away from the current North Star, and align with the next, Gamma Cephei. Through a series of rituals and customs created to celebrate this planetary event, the artist hopes to “recalibrate our human relationship to time,” reminding us of cosmic forces greater than us.

The soft sculpture Limp Pricks, 2018, by Cynthia Mason, explores the systemic failures of a late capitalist society and our paradoxical dependence on them. The fake-tan, ink-sprayed teats or penises (depending on how you view them) made of canvas, conjure a bloated and pudgy form, victim to its own weight. “The term prick references both man and nature,” she says, “KKK hoods and white male masculinity. Exhausted from both fear of failure and the task of domination; its toxic self-preservation focuses only on itself and alienates everything else.” Pricks also reference thorns and splinters from plant life and our environment failing from human-created climate change.

Kharis Kennedy’s ongoing series of life-size paintings Touch Has A Memory feature bewitching women-animal hybrids that exude a strange folkloric wisdom. Anthropomorphic and wild, her magical feminized creatures suggest a potent, if vulnerable sexuality. Polar Pussy, 2016, for example, depicts a six foot, six inch polar bear stood on its hind legs, a gaping pink vagina exposed between them.

Conceived as an outdoor, aerial sculpture that might function like a daytime planetarium experience, Kate Kosek’s Fade Place Revisited, 2019, was inspired by NASA’s space fabric, a 3D printed and dual-purpose aluminum textile. Reprised in the gallery’s windows as a site-specific installation, her hand-crocheted grids of digitally printed Plexiglas, assembled with cotton twine, are light-activated forms that shift and mutate. Indebted to nature and science alike, their prismatic patterns of color and light alternately recall stained glass, crocheted blankets, and computer screens.

Recalling the shipwreck themes of Romantic painting, David McQueen’s Untitled Rescue Boat, 2019, summons the sublime power of nature. The pile of sculpted miniature lifesaving vests that crowd the boat’s hull also act as a harbinger of climate change and tragedies to come.

Cynthia Reynolds’ Big Fragile (2008-) was initially planned as a large-scale installation of foam packing peanuts that are exact replicas of manufactured objects, created using an expanding polyurethane foam. While only two of them, one Patinated Bronze, the other Pearl Pink, are on view here, they nonetheless evoke the work’s poignant critique of commodity culture. Not merely allegories of want and convenience, as the artist aptly states, “Packing peanuts, also and more pointedly known as loose fill, are immutable and lasting; they will endure long after us in any scenario.” One is clad in bronze, a material traditionally associated with endurance and monumentality. The other is coated in bubblegum pink pearlized paint, more suggestive of disposability and indulgence. Their juxtaposition forces us to examine the permeable boundary that separates artifact from trash.

In Maureen O’Leary’s painting Untitled, 2013, an iconic image of suburban leisure - the outdoor barbecue - becomes a ritual of primal proportions. Rendered with bold, quasi-abstract formalism, the hypnotic experience of creating fire, especially at night, stimulates memories rooted in our collective unconscious. “The men are like the witches of Shakespeare, enthusiastic stewards of a mysterious burning meal. One is a confident attendant of the fire, poking it and listening as he is swallowed in the dark night. The other is a painted outline (breaking down the illusion to its substrate), who gestures toward the activity with a mysterious urgency” as if it might soon disappear.

Meredith Starr’s Plastic Pools/ Look At What We’ve Done, 2019, is a circular installation of shard-like shapes cut from plastic bags (shown here in a smaller, modified version) that underscore and transform its base materials. The plastic bags are sourced from packaging that the artist has personally accumulated, and as a “commentary on our throwaway culture” confront us with the environmental toll our need for convenience incurs. While the title may invoke images of backyard pool parties, and suburban vernacular, the specter of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, with its giant islands of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean, also comes to mind.

Holiday Inn Express, 2016, Elise Wunderlich’s replica of a white Christmas tree made from hand-cut and heat-bent plastic, is a funereal spectacle as it lays, forlorn, on its side. Once a symbol of perpetual life represented by the evergreen fir tree, the Christmas tree has become a prop as the many plastic versions - to which Wunderlich’s work alludes - conveys. Like the dead Christmas trees tossed out with the garbage on city sidewalks after the holidays have passed, it serves “as a kind of transparent placeholder like a ghost, or a shed snakeskin.”

- Jane Ursula Harris, September 2019

Jane Ursula Harris is a New York-based writer who has contributed to publications including Art in America, Artforum, Bookforum, BOMB, The Paris Review, Flash Art, The Believer, the Village Voice, Vice/GARAGE, Huffington Post, Surface, and Time Out New York, among others. She has contributed essays to various catalogues such as Participant Inc.’s NegroGothic: M. Lamar; Hatje Cantz’s Examples to Follow: Expeditions in Aesthetics and Sustainability; Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art’s Jezebel: Carla Gannis; Kerber Verlag’s Marc Lüders: The East Side Gallery; Phaidon’s Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing, Phaidon’s Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting; Universe-Rizzoli’s Curve: The Female Nude Now; and Twin Palms’ Anthony Goicolea. Harris is currently an art history faculty member at the School of Visual Arts.



from September 29, 2019 to October 20, 2019

Opening Reception on 2019-10-11 from 19:00 to 20:00

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