“If everyone is woke, you might be called upon to be something else, something more difficult than that.” - Teju Cole
Visual language is a riddle; materials allude, occlude and conspire. As an artist I am attuned to the ways power and privilege are inscribed in the objects and images that surround us. Artmaking has become a way for me to reckon with history and the present and a means to assert alternative ways of thinking and being.
My works address the slow, invasive, inescapable violence of capitalist-driven climate change. Yet visualization of the scale, reach and thoroughness of our disconnect from the natural cycles that sustain life on this planet is a knotty affair. Climate change has its visual markers, for sure: pelicans slathered in oil; skinny polar bears adrift and abandoned; disappearing glaciers, to name just a few. Other phenomena trouble and resist the visual: radiation plumes, species extinction, carbon-laced skies and the ubiquity of industrial wastes literally defy ordinary human perception.
But a larger conundrum exists that representation fails to acknowledge: communicating the problem, while arduous, is not sufficient. I’m not interested in illustrating our demise but instead I’m compelled to attend to and concentrate pieces of the material/visual world, and to distill them into a kind of radical rejection of trauma itself.
The works represented here range in tone from iconoclastic and obscene to quiet and elegiac; within these positions they are always ardently feminist.
In two works, Arctic Glory (After Brancusi) and Iceberg with Strap-on (After Henry Moore), I pay sardonic homage to two European modernist sculptors. Both men worked during a time when Western artists pilfered and metabolized the visual language of the global South. Brancusi’s Endless Column and Moore’s Reclining Nude are objects that conferred genius and creativity to their white makers, while eliding their African and Mesoamerican sources.
These exploits are not anomalous in the history of art, which, like most of history is a story related by the victors. In this context the victorious are those in power by virtue of the specific operations of race, class, sex and gender.
But what do gender, race and sexuality have to do with the Arctic? These works render the instruments of climate change (industrial use and extraction of fuels from the earth--coal, gas, oil, etc.) in relation to the extraction/transport of specific bodies across oceans and into slavery. These works make legible an art historical record that otherwise masks the forces of empire and racism—and in the case of Iceberg with Strap-on, the misogynistic equation of women with landscape. The sexual is a shorthand for our most primal energies—our desire to connect—these two works register this impulse as it plays out on the different topographies of bodies, each subject to the varying pressures of will, imagination, repression and subjugation.
Other works, like Plume and Loss take a more exaggerated, hyper-aestheticised position, as if to say: appearances are deceiving, but in their dramatization we can somehow see more clearly, and lament. Otherwise, that which remains invisible, unrecognized and unnamed, will persist in its harms.
My artistic practice lives firmly within these contradictions. I hold distant ideas together in odd metaphorical, formal and material tension. I build objects and juxtapose images that speak to the occluded narratives and unbridled forces that threaten to end us—along with a vast number of our companions—human and non, on this fragile planet.