Jennifer Odem “From the Batture”

511 Gallery

poster for Jennifer Odem “From the Batture”

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511 Gallery presents Jennifer Odem: From the Batture, a solo exhibition of new work by the New Orleans artist.

From the Batture references the batture of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. The batture is the rich land in between the levee and the river that stands as a point of intersection between the human-made embankment and the natural water flow of the river. Odem uses the batture as a metaphor for the convergence of humanity with nature and permanence with impermanence. This collection addresses environmental issues of natural disasters and the greater effects on individuals and their communities.

The five sculptures in From the Batture include both large, floor-based pieces and small, pedestal or plinth-based works. In many, Odem explores with sheer interest moments of form and line intersecting, leaving a sense of energy and activity, as if the objects may yet move. Ropes, lace, and an altar, tropes of the domestic world, are casted in bronze to give permanence to a fleeting moment of dependency and intersection. Odem uses this intersection in her sculptures as a metaphor for the balance and interdependency of active, impermanent life and solid, permanent structures.

Odem combines the environmental and social by incorporating both natural and domestic elements into her work. Simultaneously strong but made of perishable elements, the sculptures challenge traditional assumptions of human interaction and environment by showing the dependency of the two entities: society alters nature and nature alters society. Odem leaves us to contemplate how we, collectively or individually, are affected by our environment and how this shapes our interaction with the surrounding world.

From the Batture includes three drawings that explore the intersection of land, water, and stratum. The Lost River depicts this convergence, and reflects on Odem’s personal experience through the use of her father’s hand-drawn maps from the 1950’s when he worked as a geologist for Chevron Corporation. Odem uses the map as the ground for her drawing in which abstract forms, both familiar and obscure, emerge, including in some of the pictorial space, the map itself. The foreground is dominated by a large red square, and within the square are smaller, vibrantly-colored squares, representing the sites which actual oil rigs were used to drill oil from the Gulf of Mexico. The curving yellow form that begins at the left side of the page moves across the drawing intersecting with the map and oil rigs. This undulating form represents “a lost river”. The lost river river begins in the blue background, representative of the Gulf of Mexico, where it penetrates subterranean earth, twists around the oil rigs, and then ultimately disappears. The long brown rod that also intersects the map functions as the red iron-oxide leg of the oil rig. The rod emerges from the white landmass and stratum to penetrate the green, verdant landscape and finally rips through the map. Odem outlines the white landmasses’s stratum in the upper part of the drawing in order to serve as a physical representation of the permian basin in West Texas, where her father worked. The white drippings of the land indicates the ruptures that occurred as a result of the oil rig, breaking down the landform itself. The Lost River portrays the intersection and interaction of society and nature. The oil rig clearly signifies a threat to the environment made by human beings as they ripped through the layers of land and water, penetrating the subterranean elements. Odem’s use of her father’s personal maps links to an individual’s experience and interdependency in the natural world.

Odem chooses elements of the natural landscape so as to show the complex, codependent relationship between human beings and the environment, each changing the other in both positive and negative ways. It is that precise point of intersection, when people converge with, or on, nature, that is the focus of the sculptor’s work. It can be a brief or a sustained period of time that Odem views as capable of profoundly affecting society. The moment of our attempting to control nature can portend a later disaster, though intentions at the time were to prevent one.

In 1963, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the course of the Mississippi River as it headed towards the Gulf of Mexico, predicting that if allowed to continue on its natural path, its water flow would eventually bypass the channel banks of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, thus causing adverse economic impact on commercial shipping and those port cities. The Corps built the Mississippi River Old River Control Structure, a 556-feet-long dam with 11 gates to control the water flow as it left the Mississippi for the newly-created path to the Gulf. Ten years later, the severe floods of 1973 destroyed the long southern wing wall of the structure, creating enormous scour holes. Corps engineers had to build two new structures to stabilize the older, larger one, with the result that today the dam has lost 40% of its capability for controlling the flow.

As Mark Twain had warned, humans “cannot tame that lawless stream…cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at.” The floods that have since occurred, in 1993, and in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are proof. Jennifer Odem’s work, however, recognizes that nature’s wrath makes few distinctions of class or wealth when provoked. And in that moment, members of a community can step up selflessly to help others in their shared environmental disaster and to promote the general welfare in recovery. It is such interdependency and intersection of humans and nature that Odem considers and projects in her sculptures and drawings.



from November 21, 2019 to January 14, 2020

Opening Reception on 2019-11-21 from 18:00 to 20:00


Jennifer Odem

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