Greetings From the Anthropocene
February 2 – 25, 2017
Juried by Maiza Hixson, Chief Curator of the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture
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Gary Aagaard | Julie Anand and Damon Sauer |Gary Beeber | Jeremiah Birnbaum | Jan Branham | Zachary Burns
Briar Craig | Brooks Dierdorff | Michelle Friars | Jennifer Garza-Cuen | Lauren Greathouse
Eirik Heintz | Sarah Henderson | Donna Hixson | Matthew Hopson-Walker | David Iacovazzi-Pau | Brock Jensen
Rohena Khan | Blazo Kovacevic | Thaniel Lee | Robert KcKirdie | Kristen Michael
Eric Millikin | Sung Eun Park | Nicole Pietrantoni | Marco Pinter | Maria Rendon | Michael Sanata
Harry Sanchez Jr. | Ouida Touchon | Tom Wheeler | Alison Ye | Ilana Zweschi
Statement from Juror: Greetings from the Anthropocene By Maiza Hixson
Greetings from the Anthropocene presents thirty-four artists selected from cities across the United States who address issues and themes that reflect the political, social, environmental, technological and emotional dimensions of contemporary life. The title of the exhibition serves as a conceptual framework for art created in this geological period during which human activity has destabilized our global climate and ecosystems. Ranging in medium from drawing and painting to sculpture and installation, the exhibition includes a wide range of creative materials and research strategies relevant to contemporary artistic practice today.
In 2016, the nation elected Donald Trump to the United States presidency. Cited by author Robinson Meyer as “The First Demagogue of the Anthropocene” in an article published in The Atlantic, Trump’s rise as a climate change denier and authoritarian leader remains the subject of many artworks this year. Gary Aagaard’s figurative oil paintings satirize Trump’s personae as Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a signature comb over. Another of Aagaard’s paintings Race Odyssey portrays Trump’s campaign as an ape beating an elephant skeleton while Vice President Mike Pence looks on in the distance.
The construction of toxic masculinity or desire for planetary dominance is also at the center of Brock Jensen’s video, Illuminating the Brute. Filmed in the Salt Flats of Utah, Jensen lugged a 1,400-pound rigid concrete form through the barren plains for one mile in one hundred and two-degree heat. An endurance-based work for which Jensen donned an alien costume with an enlarged head and proboscis, the video shows the half-human figure strive and collapse in defeat.
Also commenting on self and cultural mythology, Jennifer Garza-Cuen’s photograph Untitled, Woman with Gun, Rabun, GA is informed by ideas of American identity and empire. Her representation of a figure defending herself from some unknown force in a backwoods setting conjures visions of hardscrabble life in rural sectors; yet without any further context, we cannot rely on the image as truth. Thus the photograph becomes a reflection of our own imagination about who or what this woman represents.
While Garza-Cuen’s image evokes themes of violence and rural communities, Eric Millikin’s Street Portrait addresses gun violence and police brutality in the urban sector. According to the artist, his portrait of the New York resident Eric Garner was “drawn in one continuous line through the streets of New York, starting from the point where police put him in a choke hold, where he repeated ‘I can’t breathe’ eleven times, past the hospital where he was pronounced dead an hour later, on July 17, 2014.”
A UV print on 3D film, Blazo Kovacevic’s Gold Tory Burch Handbag With Knife conflates violence and haute couture. The image appears as an x-ray showing a knife inside of a purse. A symbol of aggression beneath the façade, this secret weapon also evokes questions surrounding who or what is the immediate threat. The golden handbag seemingly signifies material excess in a capitalist age in which our penchant for expensive brands can often lead to violence and death.
Rohena Khan’s mixed media work entitled Temptations also speaks to ideas of desire in its iconic depiction of a melting ice cream cone. Khan’s work suggests that time is running out in our chase for material gratification. Interpreted differently, we can see the ice cream cone as a stand in for any object of desire or finite resource.
Time and assigned value also informs the work of Michael Sanata. A commentary on the scarcity of natural resources, his sculptural installation appears as a sink with dirty water. Entitled Thirsty, the basin is actually filled with colored resin and embedded within the hardened liquid is an excerpt of a United Nations study on drought.
In the book Learning to Die in the Athropocene, author Roy Scranton initiates a discussion about how individuals accept the fate of a dying planet. As a society confronting climate change we are increasingly aware of such existential themes. A sense of finality pervades artist Briar Craig’s image of scrolling end credits of a 35mm film and underscores ideas of loss. Entitled The En, Craig’s screenprint also resonates as an ironically nostalgic gesture that both points to new digital film formats replacing the old and the desire to retain some vestige of the past embodied by the screenprint as a traditional medium itself.
Tom Wheeler’s photographic print Walking Out of the Fourth Dimension and Marco Pinter’s Less Ephemeral series both reveal haunting visions that reference shifting temporality. Wheeler’s image of an illuminated portal through a deserted landscape appears as a result of the camera’s long exposure. Alternatively, Pinter employs an industrial thermal camera to photograph dancers pressing their bodies against a thermally sensitive surface. The resulting image shows the application and fading heat of corporeal movement over time. While the appearance of heat in Pinter’s work seems purely aesthetic, viewed in this geological period, the image can also register as something more than formal information. In a larger sense, the visualization of heat in an age of planetary warming may be interpreted as political.
Documenting the imperceptible human trace, Julie Anand and Damon Sauer’s photographs of Cold War satellite calibration markers show the positions and orbits of contemporary satellites present in the sky at the time of photographing. Calibration Mark A48 depicts what is normally invisible to the naked eye, reflecting networks of vast information gathering, such as U.S. intelligence and international secret surveillance programs. Anand’s work acts as a corollary to Harry Sanchez Jr.’s oil painting, named after the Edward Snowden who copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. According to his Wikipedia page, Snowden’s disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and the European government.
As an exhibition, Greetings from the Anthropocene signals a warning and welcome to the viewer of the featured artworks. Like Hieronymous Bosch’s famous triptych Garden of Earthly Delights painted between 1490 and 1510, its landscape is both mysterious and intoxicating.
In Bosch’s original painting, the left panel depicts God presenting Eve to Adam, while the central panel portrays peaceful figures in a natural paradise. The far right panel presents the world as a hellscape of smoke and flames where desperate beings are devoured by gleeful devils.
Like many historical works, Bosch’s vision remains a relevant metaphor for our greatest aspirations as well as human caused catastrophe and planetary peril. Similarly, the artists in Greetings from the Anthropocene further the dialogue of art as a prescient signifier of significant environmental and cultural change.