Why We Fished: Michael Loderstedt at Akron Soul Train
Interdisciplinary artist Michael Loderstedt welcomes moments of introspection through his autobiographical exhibition, Why We Fished, at Akron Soul Train. Sculpture, photography, and poetry meet as Loderstedt tells the story of his childhood home being overtaken by development, overfishing, and climate change. The artist contemplates the delicacy of intricate ecosystems by recontextualizing fragments of wildlife.
Why We Fished strikes a chord in the city Chrissie Hynde declared “gone” due to rampant development. The sentiment that “my pretty countryside had been paved down the middle” mirrors Loderstedt’s revisiting of a remote island off the coast of North Carolina where he spent his formative years. But unlike the 1982 Pretenders song, Loderstedt aims to bring awareness to the displaced individuals who face this unfortunate reality every day. He writes, “I’ve worked to tell the story of the dispossessed; the now unemployed fishermen, and those reeling from the increased storm activity of climate change. Giving voice to an underclass that were once my neighbors and school friends.”
“This work is, in part, about what can be learned by fishing, but also about things gained from times when there are no longer fish to catch,” Loderstedt says of the exhibition. In many ways, the show serves as a cautionary tale. Scientists have warned about a climate tipping point for years—one that threatens the lush forests and sandy beaches that are taken for granted, serving as a backdrop for Instagram posts. Loderstedt illustrates how these environments are being denigrated before our very eyes.
Northeast Ohio is familiar with visual artist Michael Loderstedt, but Why We Fished spotlights poet Michael Loderstedt. The photographs and sculptures in the exhibition are supplemented by Loderstedt’s words—and his learning to value them. “Children should be seen and not heard mother would say/as if we didn’t understand the worth of our words,” reads a poem titled Seen and Heard. It is my opinion that words add to the experience of viewing art rather than taking away. They bring meaning and perspectives that enhance our own.
Fossils and pottery shards capture moments from the past and encounter the modern-day viewer. Meticulously installed, Lesser Than and Compass recontextualize outdoor souvenirs. Getting up close and personal with these sharks’ teeth is a reminder that if we don’t act on protecting our planet, these animals may become a distant memory.
Whale Spine is a standout piece. Using fossilized whale vertebrae, hinges, and wood hardware, Loderstedt has configured the sculpture that reminds us of the fragility of these massive and, seemingly infallible, creatures. The whale motif is continued by Loderstedt’s zoomorphic Whale Ukulele. He crafted the instrument from wood, complete with a tail. The poem Memory of Whales teaches us that a whale’s memory lasts a hundred years—long enough to remember a time before overdevelopment and overfishing left the waters barren.
While the sculptures are more metaphoric, photographs provide the physical proof of Loderstedt’s point. Photography has long been considered an honest medium, but it is important to remember that it can be manipulated by the artist to convey a certain agenda. Loderstedt’s images convey a lost nostalgia—a feeling of missing a place you’ve never been.
Burnett Willis crab house (after Florence), Salter Path, NC, for example, shows details that feel intimate and almost intrusive. The “Frigidaire” signature on what appears to be a rusty air conditioner caught my eye and brings a moment of reality to this otherwise ghostly shot.
House Relocation (after Florence), Bogue Inlet, NC is a glimpse at a more brutal reality. Loderstedt has astutely captured footprints in the sand, continuing the theme of transience and impermanence that we’ve seen throughout the exhibition.
I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention Loderstedt’s Fairplay (working model), a replica of a full-size boat built for Urban Evidence at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1996. Urban Evidence commissioned seventeen artists to create installation works responding to Cleveland’s culture, economics, politics, and geography. Suspended from the ceiling, the sculpture cuts through the gallery space and confronts the viewer.
Just as we often leave the beach with a souvenir or two—a seashell, a piece of sea glass—I left this exhibition with the takeaway that beauty is fragile. Beauty must be protected. As our defenseless ecosystems are overruled by parking lots and shopping malls, we must find common ground and protect what is left.
Why We Fished is currently on view at Akron Soul Train. A spoken word event by Michael Loderstedt is scheduled for Saturday, May 7 at 3 p.m. at the Akron Soul Train gallery. The gallery is open Wednesday -Saturday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at 191 King James Way, Akron, OH 44308.