Lori Kella: Shifting Ground, at the McDonough Museum
Lori Kella’s Shifting Ground depicts the severe erosion affecting the shore of Lake Erie and the Great Lakes. The scenes depicted feel delicate, with spindly tree branches and structures on the brink of crashing down. In this exhibition, Kella captures that moment of holding your breath and clenching your fists before another wave careens into the shoreline. Custom dioramas stand between manmade glory and nature taking back over, held in an unstable moment of balance and synergy.
Shifting Ground, and its sister exhibition, Vanishing Shoreline, were featured at Photocentric in Cleveland, as well as other venues around the state. Photographs from the series have also been shown at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Sarasota Art Museum, and the Akron Art Museum.
Kella began by creating an eight-foot-long diorama with wood, paper, paint, and weeds that she sculpted into miniature trees. Using artificial lighting and backdrops, she photographed the diorama in its entirety, which can be seen in Eroding Shoreline (The Calm Before the Storm). Subsequently, she photographed the diorama in different ways, and then finally deconstructed it and photographed that process, too. By the end, she was pulling apart modeled landmasses, balconies, and canopies and arranging them on a large lightbox to photograph. “The photographs and the process are a nod to the ferocious power of nature,” Kella said in her artist statement.
Nature is as fragile as it is powerful, and Kella portrays this concept superlatively. The photographs feel both violent and eerily calm. Subdued colors dial down the intensity of the subject matter. Each moment that Kella depicts feels one gust of wind away from disintegrating. Fractured Landscape: Shoreline shows a manmade platform being swallowed into the water. A branch reaches up toward the sky, like a drowning hand clawing out for help.
Fractured Landscape: Landing shows a boardwalk sliding into ruin. There remains a chance that the structure can still be saved, but likely, it will dissipate into the rest of the landscape. The use of line in the photograph draws the eye on a downward diagonal and into the water.
With Mudslides and Forsythia, we witness an unfinished moment right before chaos is about to strike, as the earth and structures hang in a balance. Roots splay out and reach for a grounding spot to hang on to. This is the messy middle; it’s the turmoil and discomfort before a conclusion. While we see the process of the diorama coming apart, we don’t see the aftermath.
The space is curated so that as you walk through, you experience the gradual devolution of the landscape. Then, you land right back at the beginning. It can be read as cyclical—for every manmade structure that is abandoned, forgotten, and left to wither away into nothing, a new one is built.
Shifting Ground is on view at the McDonough Museum of Art through March 4th. The McDonough Museum of Art is located at One University Plaza on the Youngstown State University campus. The Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
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