. . . @ Too Shallow for Diving: the 21st Century is Treading Water, an exhibition at the American Jewish Museum, May 14 – July 28, 2011.
The dictionary tells us that a Requiem is a musical composition laying the souls of the dead to rest, presenting listeners with a remembrance of what has passed. Requiem for the Netmakers honors the loss of a way of life given by the sea – to generations of people working in the fishing industry globally – and in particular, the Gulf Coast of the United States. Requiem germinated with a news story on a family business where generations had earned their living through the art of net-making, and the business was decimated by the 2010 BP oil spill. “For the last remaining net maker in St. Bernard Parish, Erwin Menesses Jr., that’s meant a 95 percent drop in business,” read the story.
Deciphering the art installation-
The installation encompasses two walls in the American Jewish Museum’s Robinson building galleries, intersecting at the doors to the Katz Performing Arts Center. The set-up has an element of ritual, in reflection of my time spent in pre-Katrina New Orleans. I had been entranced by the visual remembrances and homegrown artwork that people put up around grave sites, and hung in the chapel of St. Jude, asking the saint for assistance in the face of disease and loss of life. During the course of the exhibition the flowers will wilt and die and the ocean landscape, boat model and fishing lures may be enhanced with additional articles from the lives of fishermen, shrimpers and the net-makers. [Later in the exhibition I added both fishing nets and buoys to the piece]
The repetition of the horizontal line, in the shelves, arrangement of digital frames, electrical outlets and landscape video monitor are intentionally stratified, visually making present landscape in our art historical catalog, landscape in our ocean’s horizon lines and the landscape of our ever-growing digital networks. The use of wood, intended to harken back to a past life-style and to bring drift wood into the piece — transformed through Angelo Gatto’s contribution and his ease with using large, heavy materials.
In light of the years I spent looking at Anselm Kieffer landscapes and enjoying the gutsiness of Baselitz paintings, these elements make perfect sense for creating a framing foundation for the 2-walled piece – and in keeping an earth awareness in an artwork using a sizable amount of electronics.
Digital still and video imagery reflects the past several years of my work with online archives, intensive political immersion and constant monitoring of the news. Sources include the Associated Press Archive (media licensed for this exhibition), Library of Congress Archive, National Archives, Environmental Protection Agency Documerica project, photographs made available through Creative Commons licenses, Present Richard Nixon’s 1970 State of the Union address, and the FEDERAL WATER POLLUTION CONTROL ACT, AS AMENDED BY THE CLEAN WATER ACT OF 1977. (on the transparency hanging on the short wall)
The lower tier of digital frames are a family album of the fishing industry, mostly in the Gulf, going back into our history– even to a time when small children shelled shrimp before the implementation of child labor laws.
The upper tier of digital frames presents a series of color permutations on an ocean wave impregnated by oil from the BP spill– giving us an opportunity to be fascinated and disgusted-both by what human beings can do to the vast, beautiful and seemingly impenetrable ocean.
The pulse and heart of Requiem is the musical composition sculpted by Frank Ferraro in response to our back-and-forth conversations over what seemed like a short, intense period of time. we started with my question, “What does oil sludge sound like?” and in response to my queries, the initial dark ambient music was re-written as a 7 minute Requiem with the larger-than-life roles of the Global Corporate Gangsters, the Big Ocean, the fisher people, ghosts of oil drillers, a mermaid chorus and oil covered animals.
In re-viewing the edited video just now, I can hear the overall sadness, the plaintive piano and see the inevitable future we are headed in – unless we alter the course of human behavior on our planet.
May 20, 2011