Karin Weiner "Digging Out/Digging In" 2007 Collage, pastel and marker 41.25x 53.25 inches
Lori Nix "Flood" 1998
C-print 20 x 24 inches
Jacob Butts "Transgression is Hard; (Or, This is Soft)" 2007 Fabric,vinyl and felt 97 x 140 inches
Our present cultural moment seems marked by a sense of “impending doom”. Media information streams into our public and private spaces, saturating our collective consciousness with stories of old and new catastrophes. Like picking out a novel in a bookstore, we have a wide choice of “crisis genres” to choose from--environmental crisis, international instability, the rise of global economic threats, wars, genocides, the world-wide AIDS epidemic, extremisms, and so on.
Some choose to fixate on one of these calamities, while others prefer to channel-surf through the myriad of options. While it is easy to get swept away by these feelings of fear and dread, the organizers of this exhibition recognize this as an opportunity to stop and consider. Working within a particular cultural space in which the individual oftentimes feels powerless or simply overwhelmed by this liminal moment of crisis and change, under current will examine the various ways that contemporary artists engage with this moment. We do this to remind ourselves, and the viewers, that, despite the sense of
individual isolation that is characteristic of our time, we are still a part of a collective whole.
Though these works are mostly narrative, they are not representative of the world as we know it. Instead, they depict alternative spaces in which real objects and experiences can be reworked. These works play upon desires engendered by our contemporary moment: desires to escape; to heal; to retreat; to rescue; to re-invent; or to return to some idealized other place and time. Through the transformation of physical space and the physical body, these artists allow us to look beyond our reality, and remind us that these desires—which are the flip-sides of our fears—are shared.
Some of these works embody our collective fears quite literally. Katherine Guillen’s work “Atlas (Portrait of Eleanor),” for example, speaks to the feeling of having the literal weight of the world on your shoulders. The figure in “Buffy Summers #1” by Stacia Yeapanis is beleaguered by forces that lie both beyond her control and beyond our vision. Both of these works engage us at the ground level—we are able to relate to the figures of “Atlas” and “Buffy,” as they struggle with the burdens of their individual situations; they evoke the sense of gravitas that we collectively feel in this moment.
Jenny Herrick’s piece “Shooting Circle (Hexagonal Iteration)” addresses the tension of being caught in this moment of uncertainty. The figures, which are identical, have trapped one another in stalemate, and movement has become impossible. Within the context of under current, this work speaks to the sense of inertia that plagues many of us, and keeps us from taking action to break this cycle of negativity.
Other pieces in under current address these shared emotions in different ways. The works of Jan von Holleben and Macha Suzuki exemplify the desire for transformation and transcendence. Both von Holleben’s “The Dogrider” and Suzuki’s “Love and Dance” play upon one of our most enduring childhood fantasies—the fantasy of flight. In “Love and Dance” the two figures are changed from human into animal form, reiterating both the desire to literally rise above our complicated modern world, and to retreat into another—the natural world—which seems less complex, but more complete, compared to the fractured reality of our daily experiences.
The piece “Recommence” by Camilla Engman echoes this desire for retreat to nature. The natural world read through Engman’s piece, however, resembles more of a post-apocalyptic landscape than an ideal sanctuary. The collective countenance of Engman’s figures casts them more as refugees than as figures that have risen above. “Recommence,” which can be paired conceptually with “Digging Out/Digging In” by Karin Weiner, offers a view of an alternative social space, giving form to the hideaways that exist in the imagination of the artist, while maintaining an underlying tension that turns our minds to the disasters— environmental or otherwise—that might have made such escape necessary.
The works by Trulee Grace Hall and Ramis Kim, titled “Open House,” and “Girl Fight,” respectively, both offer another sort of escapism. Through these works, both artists communicate an eerie nostalgia for childhood. Hall’s piece creates a dramatic tension through juxtaposition of the over-saturated, self-indulgent depiction of a childhood bedroom and the figure of the artist, a grown woman, apparently seeking to escape through reversion to youth. Kim’s piece sets a scene that is both peaceful and fraught with anxiety and conflict. Though the scenes created in these works are engaging at first, the subtle disquiet in each reminds us that we will not find safety in escape; that hiding does nothing to solve the problems that drive us towards this kind of retreat.
Through the innovative use of materials, each of the works presented in under current offer a different way to deal with the problems and anxieties that confront our generation. Some offer transcendence through transformation or escape, while others allow us to engage our feelings of powerlessness and loss. This exhibition is not a call to action, and it does not advocate a certain political point of view. It is, rather, an opportunity for reflection. under current began with the observation of a trend among contemporary artists. We hope that it will end with a reinforced sense of collectivity, and of commonality, among viewers.