Some shows need more time than others. “Land Arts of the American West Exhibition 2011” at SCA Contemporary Art needs as much time as the viewer can give.
At first glance the 10-artist installation in Sheri Crider’s New York City SOHO-style warehouse gallery exudes the black, white and brown of most contemporary shows. But when you get down to the details it’s an impressive collection of ideas about the nature of nature and how we respond to our surroundings.
The complex show, ranging from pottery to architectural models, videos and a lot in between, represents an ongoing interdisciplinary arts project that emphasizes interaction with both ancient and contemporary human impact on the land.
The western landscape continues to be the subject of tens of thousands of paintings, some great, some terrible, since the European invasion of the Americas 500 years ago. This show asks viewers to move beyond the picturesque into the often jarring physicality of direct experience.
Most native people revere the land for its life-giving sustenance and magical beauty. The cultural collision between those who believe in the sacred nature of land and those who are committed to the mercantile use of land continues.
The land arts movement that began more than 50 years ago examines how we directly experience our environment.
When the late Maria Martinez gathered clay for her pottery she always left an offering of corn for Mother Earth. Her sacrificial gesture was both a prayer and a promise. Her promise was not to waste the clay and her prayer was for an abundant harvest of corn to sustain the Pueblo people. The application of a corn motif to the finished pot amplified the prayer. For the cynics out there, yes, Martinez did sell her wares, but her corn sacrifice and motifs reached back to far more innocent times.
The large earthen-hued ceramic vessels titled “Cutting Sign 1 and 2” by Jami Porter-Lara evoke thoughts of Martinez and ancient rituals. Both bottle-form jars are etched with abstract and pictorial imagery, including a pickup truck and trailer. Through these motifs Porter-Lara is leaving tracks much like a moccasin print on a dusty trail.
Nearby, Celeste Neuhaus offers “Vanishing Point,” a mural-scale video with soundtrack of a woman walking toward and then away from the camera across a vast salt flat. Her journey to and from the distant mountain range replete with crunching footfalls is a basic lesson in single-point Renaissance perspective.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” utilized single-point perspective, with the figure of Christ at the vanishing point. Da Vinci died in 1519, the same year that Cortez landed at Veracruz, Mexico, leading to the Europeanization of the American Southwest. Cortez was searching for treasure to pay Queen Isabella’s war debt accrued while driving the Islamic Moors out of Christian Spain. Sound familiar? Thank you, Ms. Neuhaus, for reminding us.
Jane Gordon’s wire sculpture “Ubiquitous” is a comment on how much our energy needs impact the landscape. Her sculpture of miniature high-tension electrical towers complete with symbolic electromagnetic leakage portrays something that most landscape painters are forced to leave out of their compositions.
Two logs, a few electronic bits and a sound track are all Ryan Henel needed to create “Cetacea Populus (prototype),” a very earthy sound machine. Henel’s logs have been fitted with speakers designed to bring a site-specific soundtrack into a different location.
My favorite detail is the copper speaker wire threaded through boring insect tracks on the surface of the log. I also love his asymmetrical amplifier case.
At the far wall of the gallery we find “Drift Study 1” and “Drift,” a digital print and sculpture by Nina Dubois. Her topographical graphics and carefully cast modular sculpture is well executed and presented. Dubois includes the mold from which she cast her work and a separate ceramic piece titled “Mata meta,” a brain-like sculpture. Her “Mata meta” shares a kinship with ancient geometric stone carvings and ceramic works found in Europe and north Africa.
Space doesn’t allow an examination of the well-worth-watching videos by Jennifer Etelka Gorst and Chris Galanis or the rest of the individual works. This is a solid show worth a leisurely visit.