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Monday, February 16, 2009

Earthlings at Sacred Heart

The Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University
5151 Park Ave., Fairfield, (203) 365-7650
The Elements: Earth
Through Mar. 5, 2009.

The Elements: Earth, an exhibition at Sacred Heart University's Gallery of Contemporary Art, features works informed by environmental consciousness. It is a small show graced with beauty, intelligence and compassion for the planet. There is a mix of media ranging from the new—video and animation—to the very old, the shaped substance of earth itself.

"Earth" by Apo Torosyan makes art out of the most mundane but also sublime of materials-dirt. In Torosyan's rounded mound, he offers a representation of the basic essence of our being. It is revealingly varied in its visual texture. Fine, lumpy, smooth, mottled, cracking open. Fragile, yet solid.

Andy Goldsworthy and the team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude (Web) are each represented by photos of wrapped objects. Goldsworthy's "Fresh, thin leaves wrapped aroundrotted trunk/held with water" is like a miniature. Amid dark forest earth tones, a decaying cracked tree juts out over a little brook. The points of the splintered trunk point out like fingers, enveloped by lime green leaves like a plastic glove. It's a jolt of deliberate color in the quiet of the woods. Looking at the two images documenting the work, one can almost smell the life, the decay and the fresh water. "Reichstag," on the other hand, is monumental. The building that formerly housed the Nazi Parliament is covered by silvery drapes held tight to its contours.

Where Goldsworthy's work documents a moment in ecological time—an installation at its freshest, meant for natural decay—Michele Brody's "Parrita in Process" depicts the detrimental impact of human action on the environment over time. Brody displays a series of photographs of a palm plantation in Costa Rica. Starting on the left, the landscape is wild, free. Over the course of the half dozen images, the land is domesticated, the trees lined up in rows. The greenery gives way to brown and, finally, the forest is reduced to a vista of barren pole-like carcasses receding into the tangled brush.

The landscape of the human psyche is charted in the fascinating "Study for 'Discrete Terrain: Windows on Five Emotions'" by Eva Lee (Web). The digital video installation is derived from the brain scans of 12 subjects during five emotional states: anger, joy, fear, sadness and disgust. It is like watching a stop-motion movie of the Earth at creation. Placid surfaces throw up mesas and hills, mountains and rutted valleys, palisades and arid plains.

Many of these works are motivated by the sense of the earth under threat. Gerald Saladyga's "Apocalypse," a work of latex paint on canvas, depicts a craggy landscape set within the cosmos. The composition is riven by explosions, segmented by lines—bombing coordinates?—and beset by bugs (all rendered by Saladyga with a gorgeous beauty that recalls contemporary digital imaging).

In one of the most traditional works, Jane Sutherland's (Web) pastel of Loggie's Greenhouse," the lushness of plant life is sequestered indoors. This is a tour de force of drawing in which the cultivated plants seem to overflow the ability of their (indoor) environment to contain them.


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