Curated by Mark Dion, Brian Booth, David Brooks, Barbara De Vries, Klara Hobza, Pam Longobardi, Katherine McLeod, James Prosek, Alexis Rockman, Dana Sherwood, Juan Valdez, Bryan Wilson
The exhibition Voyage on Uncanny Seas convenes a collection of visual artists committed to a focused consideration of the Ocean. Two resent significant marine events function as the polar opposite touchstones for the conceptual framework of the exhibition. The first is the occasion of the completion of the decade long Census of Marine Life, the world's largest scientific collaboration which brought together 2,700 scientists from 80 nations to conduct over 530 expeditions of discovery to develop a comprehensive view of the past, present and future of life in the world's seas. This resulted in the finding of more that 6000 new species, of which only 1500 have been thus far described. The oceans were affirmed as the site of mega-biodiversity, and animals and plants of uncanny strangeness and wondrous behavior were brought to light. The second touchstone is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an environmental catastrophe of such dreadful magnitude that it's extensive damage to marine habitats will be felt for decades to come. Between April 20th and September 19th 2010, over 4,900,000 barrels of crude oil escaped into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, creating an 80 square mile kill zone.
The artist in this exhibition freely migrate between the poles of a deep affinity and attraction to the marvelous and strange life forms of the sea, as the paramount expressions of the world's biodiversity and a profound despair at the heedless destruction and squandering of sea life and habitats, the worlds greatest resource. This despair manifests itself in a variety of forms from outrage to melancholy, and is resisted in a wide array of conceptual and pragmatic strategies demonstrated by these artists.
A number of the artists in this exhibition have manifested a life long collaboration biologists and other scientists, who have functioned as a continued source of thematic and specific inspiration. They prove that art and science are not at odds but rather make powerful team mates when turning their insight to the same issues. In particular Alexis Rockman, James Prosek and Katherine McLeod each share productive relationships, not only with living zoologists, but also with the history of natural history.
Dana Sherwood and Bryan Wilson share an appreciation for the wondrous aspects of of the ocean's strange denizens, with their bizarre body architecture and outrageous lifestyles. Yet even in the world of the deep, the hand of humankind makes it's impression. Their work emphasizes the sense of the ocean realm as an uncanny space, of this world, but not of our world. This sense of the sea as an alien place is shared by Klara Hobza, whose video invites us to follow her preparations to invade the aquatic environs. She undertakes her training with the rigors of a comic cosmonaut.
For centuries we have exploited the ocean as a boundless resource, feeding the world's costal communities and yet simultaneously functioning as the trash bin for those same populations. Over the past few decades the limits of the sea have been perceivable, yet attitudes and behaviors have not kept up pace with our knowledge of ocean fragility. The material culture choking the seas and being transformed by its hash nature process are elements employed in both the extraordinary jewelry of Barbara De Vries, as well as in the webs, reliefs and sculptures of Pam Longobardi. Both of these artists while working in divergent forms allow flotsam and jetsam to bare witness to a culture of imprudence, greed and ignorance. The anger eminent in this work is shared in that of Brian Booth, David Brooks and Juan Valdez all of which share an eyewitness perspective to the treatment of the ocean in a manner unmindful of future consequence. Their work, though entirely distinct in expression, shares a dark vision of the near future as a world robbed of beauty, diversity and and wonder.
As an artist myself I feel extraordinarily committed to those artists not afraid to "say something", to make work which resists complacency and collaboration with the dominant culture of self-destruct. Yet visual art is clearly not the realm plain-speaking and uncomplicated expression and communication. Rather art is a complex form of expression, best when giving voice to thoughts which elude easy articulation. Melancholy, ambivalence, bereavement and other sophisticated expressions of the human experience banished from popular media representation, find a voice in the subtitles and complexities of visual art. Concerning the crisis of seas, I can imagine no better spokespersons than the remarkably gifted artist of this exhibition.