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Friday, January 23, 2009

Sunday opening at Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University

The Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University
5151 Park Ave., Fairfield, (203) 365-7650
The Elements: Earth
Jan. 25—Mar. 5, 2009.
Opening reception: Sun., Jan. 25, 1—3:30 p.m.
Artist's talk to follow.

Press release

The fourth exhibit in our series about The Elements focuses on Earth. The pre-Socratic philosopher, Empedocles (c. 492—432 B.C.), noted the world's division into four naturally occurring Elements—"earth, sea, air and the fiery aether of the heavenly bodies"—were the basis of all matter. For centuries, these elements continued to be the foundation for our decoding of the world.

There will be an opening reception for this show this Sun., Jan. 25, from 1—3:30 p.m.

It could be argued that the first "earth works" were very early man's attempt to mark and control his environment, places such as Stonehenge and ancient dolmens. In the 1960s numerous artists created large-scale earth works, born in reaction to the commercialization of art, that could only be totally experienced from the sky.

Two variants of earth works in this exhibit, Andy Goldsworthy's "Fresh, thin leaves / wrapped around rotted trunk / held with water /Lennox, Massachusetts / 13 May 2005" and Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Reichstag" (1996) are works that are best known by their documentation, since no trace is left after their completion.

Goldsworthy uses natural materials, many times from the site of creation (such as leaves, ice and stone), to make work, intending that it will be ephemeral and have a life-cycle of creation, stasis and ultimately decay. In this case, little remains of the intense green leaves that once made a quiet and stunning statement deep in the woods.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the husband and wife team, draw attention to the land and or human constructs upon it by draping impossibly large areas in fabric for up to three weeks, after which all of the materials are recycled. The temporarily vacant 100-year-old Reichstag was draped in a silvery reflective material that waved and swayed in the wind. It took 24 years to obtain permission and execute the project.

Human relocation across vast distances, whether by choice or displacement, has increased over the last century and become almost commonplace. Apo Torosyan makes his art and films as a reflection of his immigrant experiences. As a child in Turkey, he witnessed the 1955 pogrom and the destruction of the old Constantinople. "Earth" (2008) is gently mounded soil. When questioned about the use of "dirt" for this work, he responded that "earth" is part of all of us, reminding us of the concept of ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Niki Ketchman's "Landscape 2" (2006) is a collaged and painted globe tenuously tethered from the ceiling to a small half-globe shape with a plastic tree.

The Black Estate, an artists' collaborative composed of Noah McDonald and Scott Pagano, combines the centuries old tradition of beautiful ink wash drawings and contemporary animation. "Fall" (2007) is enclosed in a beautifully crafted wooden box with an ocular lens, from which one individually experiences the swirling, falling leaves in a circular, folding format.

"Parrita in Process" (July 2001), by Michele Brody, is also a reflection of time and landscape, depicting the life cycle of a palm plantation in Costa Rica. Palm oil is used in soaps (Palmolive), as non-hydrogenated cooking fat and its demand has risen recently as a biofuel. Some environmental groups claim that the increased demand for palm oil biofuel is damaging to the planet because its production results in the destruction of peat bogs and deforestation.

Stephanie Lempert's "Spectacle Island Park" (2008), a photograph of a reclaimed landfill site, is overlaid with the comments of those who participated in the reclamation process and its long tumultuous history. These "secret messages" encoded over the pristine landscape add another dimension to it's wild beauty.

In a departure from actual landscapes, three of the artists, Kim Keever, Eva Lee and Gerald Saladyga manufacture landscapes as part of their work.

Keever creates majestic, sweeping landscapes in a 100-gallon fish tank filled with water. These elaborately staged artificial productions of plaster and plastic rocks, trees, and fluid clouds of almost lurid colors flowing through the water, are carefully lit and photographed, with no attempt to hide the process or make these appear "real". They are post-Hudson River school works; empty, surreal, eerie landscapes that reflect the fact that humans are drawn to the sublime and beautiful but not necessarily committed to ensuring its survival. It is implicit that these substitute landscape vistas in a fish tank may, someday, be all we have left.

The earth's inhabitants have an interior emotional landscape. Lee has been working with neuroscientist Dr. James Cohan of the University of Virginia to create 3D animations of EEG readings of twelve people during five emotional states (anger, joy, fear, sadness and disgust). Multiple views of each subject's emotion are viewed simultaneously. As the work unfolds, in jewel-like colors, it resembles a slow-motion journey through the rising of a mountain-like topography and its disintegration.

A landscape painter of the cosmos, Saladyga imagines the earth seen from space in multiple views upon a canvas with a starlit sky behind them. Saladyga's "Apocalypse" (2008), is inspired by global positioning and geographical photographs. Abstract and glowing curvilinear lines, layered many times over with sparkling dots of color, indicate glowing roaches that have survived a nuclear holocaust. This fanciful, luscious work includes a fiery mountain range with mountain climbing schematics that are the only reference to man's existence.

Also looking down at the earth, Anthony Falcetta's "#P121228" (2008) is an abstract, lushly painted landscape, a bird's eye view of a flowing river and the banks that contain it.

David Meisel has long photographed a reality that we are aware of but have never really contemplated. His abstract images, taken from the air and recording the loss of waterways, led to his aerial photographs of where that water flowed—Los Angeles. The "Oblivion Series" shows us an immense and overpopulated tangled mess of miles of urban density. "Oblivion 9n" (2004), with its reversal of black and white, reminds us of x-rays that reveal something that is hidden, the monstrous effect of development, exquisitely documented, forbiddingly beautiful.

In a reversal, Margaret McCarthy's romantic photograph "The Crystal Cave" from the "Portals Series" is taken from inside a cave to depict the rays of the sun streaming into the opening.

Jane Sutherland's masterful eye for detail in her pastel "Loggie's Greenhouse" (2002) shows us a close up view of the lush plantings created within the glass walls of a climate-controlled space. Plants growing in their earthenware pots extend the growing season or possibly suggesting it may be environmentally necessary to grow our plants indoors.
Margaret Tsirantonakis' "Ancient Vase Echoes in the Landscape" (2004), a woodblock and monotype, depicts the classical shape of a container made of clay, suspended between the mountains and sea of her native Crete.

Most of Barbara Rothenberg's works contain a reference to nature's life cycles, such as roots, seeds and plant forms. Her rich and textured oil and collage work, "Up From Earth # 2" is comprised of manipulated images of mushrooms, the amazing fungus that seems to grow overnight.

Implicit in any representation of life forms is its transformation and regeneration. One can only hope that the creativity that is evident in these works will be reflected in our efforts to sustain our blue planet.

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