Group Show at Zygote Press Addresses Anxiety in the Anthropocene
The current show at Zygote Press, “Capturing the Aura of the Already Said” was curated by Boston-based artist and professor, Margaret Hart. Featuring the work of herself and three other artists, I realized as I looked at the names that none of them were familiar, including hers. Happy to learn that they are all “out-of-towners”, I was excited to see work by established artists that are entirely new to me. As a group their work, in many divergent ways, addresses the urgent concerns of life in an age of imminent ecological disaster.
Deborah Carruthers is based in Montreal, and touts herself as a “Canadian Inter-Arts Artist”. That much is obvious when you see her installation at Zygote, which includes photographs of glaciers, small watercolors of glaciers, screenprints inspired by glaciers, and video of a performance of one of her musical pieces, slippages: which has a “graphic score” based on research about surging glaciers, performed by the UBC Symphony Orchestra in Vancouver last year. The resulting music is disjointed, harsh at times, very improvisational – and when interspersed with glacial imagery, a bit foreboding in tone (You can see clips from these on her website – right here).
Carruthers has been interested in glaciers since her childhood. Recalling family drives on the Columbia Icefield parkway, she recently re-visited the Athabasca Glacier and was stunned to see how much the snow had leveled off and how far the glacier had retreated over the past forty years. This began a close examination of glaciers in her work, and the environmental troubles of our current geological era, the Anthropocene.
One of the best things in the entire show is Carruthers’ screenprints from her series, “The Past Sealed Away.” In them, she investigates how glaciers may be seen as having their own agency, and from across the room I truly believed that somehow these ink splotches were actually created by glaciers themselves. In my mind, very slowly, over a very long amount of time, the glaciers creeped across the surface of the paper, pushing the ink into abstract ripples and pools. I highly doubt that is even possible, but her exercises in creating that narrative are incredibly compelling – and delicately beautiful as well.
When taking a look at the environmental catastrophe that we have unleashed on ourselves in the Anthropocene, quite a bit of anxiety comes to the surface, and the work of Gabriel Deerman captures that feeling very well. Deerman is based in rural Ontario, where he co-directs Salmon River Studios, a large timber barn studio on a 52 acre farm nestled on the banks of the pristine Salmon River, just across from the town of Tamworth. The studio offers educational programming focused on art, ecology, and community, and Deerman’s own practice, perhaps not surprisingly, focuses on the cultural and scientific effects of climate-change on human relationships.
At Zygote, Deerman created a cluster of drawings pinned to the wall, imagery of a linear globe – the Earth – is frantically and dramatically repeated across the surface, interspersed with charts, graphs, topographical, and natural imagery, the end result looking a bit like an obsessed detective tracking a serial killer. Fraught with anxiety, Deerman’s work forces the viewer to consider his attempts at replicating our perfect globe, and seeing it repeated so obsessively certainly reveals his underlying urgency (something we all should be feeling these days when thinking about climate change).
Another artist that uses repetition effectively in this show is New York City artist Mark Roth, whose wall of identically shaped canvases is arranged in a perfect line as you entire the room. At the center of each is a circular “target” – a bit like looking down the barrel of a gun, the surrounding area is painted in colorful stripes and shapes, all highlighting the the central imagery.
It took me a minute, but upon close examination, and after reading the title – it dawned on me. His series of Blobsquatch paintings involve the artist looking for the elusive Sasquatch in Old Masters Paintings on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The resulting Blobsquatch paintings showcase an indeterminate blob that a keen-eyed observer will know is the mythical creature, hiding in the background of landscapes painted hundreds of years ago.
If you take a look at the original painting, you can see that Roth may have used a shadow in the right hand side of the composition to locate his Sasquatch peeping around a tree. This painting is an interesting choice, as well, because the subject includes two young boys peeping at the young lovers in the foreground.
Another great one is his take on The Nativity by Gerard David, and with this one I was actually able to find the exact tiny detail in the original canvas – and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t look like a figure in the distance.
Roth has the viewer re-engaging the canon of Western art with a crypto-zoological lens, something he has addressed before in his work – including an augmented reality installation to be used in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called “Missing the Megafauna“. If you install an app on your phone, as you look at works of art, Roth inserts imagery of megafauna that went extinct in the Late Pleistocene and with which humans for a time coevolved. Another way of re-wilding the canon, Roth’s work celebrates the extinct, the mythical, and memorializing ecological grief – significant ideas during a time of great environmental change.
All of these artists address the myriad problems the Earth is currently facing, but the last artist Margaret Hart, concentrates on the complexities of identity for humankind in these uncertain times.
In her series “Situated Becomings” Hart investigates the effects of technology on the organic, the fluidity of nature, and the anxiety of the machine age – reading almost like a sci-fi narrative, her colleges unfold a story of a character “becoming”. As she explains: “Imagine a cyborg collage: a becoming of gender possibilities, an image depicting fragments of technology, organic parts and hints of human gender forms through the spaces imaged or the objects included.”
Her imagery immediately calls to mind the great Dada photomontage artist Hannah Hoch, who also toyed with ideas of gender and becoming – and often included bits of technology as well.
Hart’s work continues Hoch’s experiments, but infuses them with the anxiety of life in what she calls the “Posthuman Age”. Posthumanism is a concept that originated in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art, and philosophy that includes a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human – think cyborgs, androids, the singularity, etc.
The thing I like best about Hart’s colleges is how compositionally beautiful they are as discrete objects – colorful, pleasantly arranged – but if you scratch the surface, and start to carefully examine the words, the bits of imagery, something much darker emerges. Like a very pretty Trojan Horse, her collages carry encoded messages of a posthuman future, where identity may very well reside in an entirely technological place – perhaps necessary as the Earth collapses around us.
This fabulous show, Capturing the Aura of the Already Said, will be on view at Zygote Press through April 26, 2019. Gallery hours at their main location are Wednesdays and Saturdays 12 noon to 4 pm, to set up an appointment to view the gallery at an alternative hour email info at zygotepress.org.