Where do you Draw the Line
Where do you Draw the Line featuring the works of Tuyen My Nguyen and Barbara Waters is on view at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, VT through October 6th, 2019. Exploring the impact of The US/Mexico border wall, Where do you Draw the Line presents analysis of its impact on human, environmental, and spiritual habitat through visual interpretation and photographs of the wall itself. The exhibition uses the power of art to move the politically charged topic out of the frenzy of the media into a space of contemplation to consider the consequences of drawing an impermeable line across the land.
Line is central to Barbara Waters’ monotype prints. She uses horizontal lines to create meandering intersections where the land meets the sky. In her panoramic prints she portrays vast landscapes with color gradations that create a sense of distance spanning as far as the eye can see. There is, however, another type of line in Waters’ prints: the vertical line, repeated one after another, also as far as the eye can see. These lines form the border wall. These lines divide and obstruct, representing a shift in perspective that undermines our roll as stewards of the environment in order to enforce a political mandate.
The border wall violates countless laws that were established to protect the environment. It prevents the natural movement of species that thrive on freedom and drastically alters fragile ecosystems including a UNESCO world heritage site. Waters presents the environmental protection laws that were dismantled in order to legally complete the border wall in Borderlands: Ghosts of Protections Past. In rows of lines mimicking the physical structure of the wall, Waters lists the 48 laws the government waived in order to erect a structure that would span the US/Mexico border. Some of these laws include The Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Where do you Draw the Line includes a presentation of articles that delve into the history of the border and the Mexican-American war of 1848, when Mexico was forced to sign over 525,000 square miles of territory to the US. The legal issues surrounding the structure are discussed along with the myriad of environmental consequences, including the hazard it poses for over 90 endangered and threatened species, the expected increase in flooding due to obstructed waterways, the division of tribal nations, and the seizure of private land. The literature also sheds light on smaller details that hold great significance such as The Bureau of Land Management quietly removing their conservation-focused mission statement from all agency news releases.
Photographs that Waters took at the wall in Douglas, Arizona offer a glimpse of the structure in reality: barbed concertina wire looped in curls, the clear blue sky abruptly intersected, tourists taking pictures, and the distant horizon of a Mexican mountain range obscured behind jail-like bars. To expand on her metaphor of line Waters includes prints of multiple organic lines woven together like a fabric. But in Democracy: Frayed Edges and Mending Project the fabric has torn, appearing vulnerable, tired, and worn. In Ask the Right Question Waters uses a series of strong lines again, this time united in a lattice pattern. These pieces comment on the frailty of the US government while acknowledging the potential to address the deeper issue raised by the border wall.
The humanitarian crisis unravelling as a result of the wall is palpable when standing in front of Tuyen My Nguyen’s installation threadbarrier. Lines of black fishing twine reach from floor to the ceiling, arranged in the same even rows as the bars of the border wall. Situated between the entrance to the gallery and the rest of the exhibit, threadbarrier requires anyone who enters the gallery space to navigate its presence. Sets of life-size clay hands created by Georgia Landau gently grasp the thread, reaching forward, and in places parting the obstruction as easily as one might part a curtain. The disembodied hands memorialize the lives that have been lost, including the distinctly small and vulnerable hands of children.
The position of the hands, on the brink of crossing forward from behind the barrier, addresses the concept that fueled the construction of the border wall. Caught in a state of limbo, the hands are never allowed forward into the space occupied by the viewer. As just mere hands without bodies they are devoid of identity. They maintain their position as part of the wall, and therefore part of the problem. They are a reminder of how ‘the other’ is perceived, and in many cases feared because the differences in ‘other people’ challenge the truths we build. The border wall was erected because of that fear. It is an attempt to remain separate and encapsulate our culture instead of enriching it with others.
Born of Vietnamese refugees, Tuyen My Nguyen empathizes with the immigrant’s struggle to make a better life. Her family settled in Louisiana, in an area that would eventually be hit by hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the disaster, Tuyen’s parents remained committed to rebuilding their community despite the level of decimation and dwindling population. It is significant to Tuyen that the feat of repairing the local infrastructure was achieved in part by the efforts of migrant workers from south of the border. They showed up to help when many were fleeing the wake of the disaster, joining together for the greater good of the remaining community.
As a barrier made of twine, threadbarrier is ultimately meant to be irrational. Its ineffectiveness mirrors the wall’s failure to address the complex issues surrounding immigration, xenophobia, and the human rights violations that cause people to seek asylum in another country. threadbarrier is fragile, reflecting the delicate nature of our relationships with one another when our need to become a secluded nation overshadows our potential to demonstrate decency toward others along with respect for our planet.
Nature itself is constantly in flux, existing with an ebb and flow that does not observe the human tendency to set parameters and boundaries. The wild chaos of ecosystems, of which humans are an integral part, thrives only with the freedom to move and exist in tandem with this on going and dynamic ebb and flow. The border wall disrupts this, preventing species from fleeing danger and unfavorable habitats, restricting migratory patterns, and impeding the health and procreation of local wildlife. By creating an impassable barrier that divides the continent, we are developing more physical, social, and economic problems, while solving nothing. It is time to ask the right question – where do we draw the line?
Of Earth: Image and Clay
Of Earth: Image and Clay featuring the works of John Douglas and Joan Watson will be on view from July 19 to August 25 at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, VT, with an opening reception Friday July 26 from 5-8pm. Casting a look into the past, present, and future of our relationship with our environment Of Earth: Image and Clay ponders this moment in time, and the uncertainty of our industrialized world. To counter the anxieties of this reality, the exhibit calls upon us to inquire into the complexities of modernity and to promote a deeper understanding of our relationship to the environment.
Today the Earth’s resources are being used to increase the comfort, pleasure, and productivity of humankind. The global-warming reality conjured in John Douglas’ Auto-Warming Series cautions against the consequences of this relationship. His prints are a fascinating display of expanding skylines, oil platforms, and flooding waters. This is an environment that has been completely spent. The recurring imagery of row upon row of submerged cars refers specifically to the auto industry. Owning a vehicle has now become an extension of the self due to the necessity perpetuated by the demands of our consumer/commuter culture. This industry is most American because the automobile has always been our symbol of freedom. It is uncomfortable to imagine a reality without this liberty, but these images ask us to contemplate the cost of this privilege.
The method that Douglas uses to create his Auto-Warming prints reveals the extent of which technology is capable of fabricating reality. Just as a painter uses a brush to create surfaces and blend colors, Douglas maps out his futuristic reality with a mouse and keyboard, using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to form his composition. All aspects of the creative process are under complete control, thoroughly manipulated, and strikingly absent of human touch. The effect is so convincing it is hard to believe that Douglas’ computer generated prints are not actual photographs of real places. In addition to achieving a hyper realistic visual effect, working with CGI shows us the seemingly limitless possibilities of rendering through programming. The capability of constructing a proxy for the environment seems like an impossible outcome, but in the future depicted by Douglas’ imagination we see how close to that reality we really are.
As the Auto-Warming Series projects the viewer into a future of consequence, Douglas also presents photographs that reference a reassuring vision. A small rocky island in the middle of Lake Champlain defiantly faces the Auto-Warming prints. This island is a natural rock formation that Vermont’s indigenous Abenaki personify as Ojihozo, a being who was formed from the dust sprinkled over the Earth by their creator. In Ojihozo’s struggle to gather his newly created self, he grasped the land for support, pushing against the Earth with such force that up sprang the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. Using these mountains as support, Ojihozo lifted himself from the Earth, leaving behind a great indentation that filled with water, forming Bitawbagok, commonly known today as Lake Champlain. Ojihozo returned to the middle of the lake and sat down to become one with Earth again, turning to stone in his final resting place.
At the heart of the tale of Ojihozo is a reverence for nature interwoven with the human experience. To identify more closely with Earth, the Abenaki align themselves with its formation, as the two are one and the same. To the Abenaki, Ojihozo is a valuable island because it personifies their creation story and serves as a reminder that humankind is part of Earth, and only possible because of Earth. The Abenaki perspective contrasts with the more prevailing view that nature exists as a resource, is coveted as a raw material, and valued only for its transformation into a usable substance. The only way to counter the harsh inevitability of an Auto-Warming future is to believe in the value of the Earth beyond the standards of industry and economic gain.
Adding strength to this standpoint are Joan Watson’s Rock Formations. Occupying the same space as the viewer, the rock sculptures offer a grounding presence in their familiar form. They assume the role of companions, each with their individual character, to cultivate a sense of connection. In the setting of the gallery, Watson’s sculptures demonstrate the potential for a relationship based on the mutual benefit of simply existing together. The versatility of clay allows it to be transformed into almost anything, yet Watson has chosen rocks as her subject; a simple element elevated as art to be revered and appreciated.
Clay is one of the oldest materials of creation, dating back roughly 20,000 years. It is one of the earliest mediums used to create functional objects, which in turn provided surfaces for creative expression and communication. Sculpting with clay is one of the earliest steps in the evolution of technology, however at some point the sense of partnership between the creator and the medium was lost. Responding to the human hand, clay cultivates an intimate relationship; volume must be built from the core, working from the inside out. The artist’s intuitive response is achieved by feeling the material and understanding its properties, guiding the clay to its final form.
The hierarchy of sculptural art versus functional art affirms the message that value does not have to be determined by usefulness. There is a dichotomy of functional art versus sculptural art. As a tool, functional art serves a greater purpose for its owner, however the standards of art dictate that once something is able to be used, it’s meaning is diminished at the sake of the service it provides. A sculpture, appreciated solely as art, increases its value both conceptually and monetarily. This notion of hierarchy is important, yet hardly considered when it comes to Earth. If we can elevate the value of the environment above that of a commodity it will regain the level of importance it deserves. After all, it is the original masterpiece and is therefor priceless.
This change in perspective is essential to preserve the Earth’s ability to sustain human existence. Douglas’ Auto-Warming Series anticipates a future that is over industrialized, resulting from the will to command and maintain complete control of the environment for national interests and personal economic gain. But the sense of urgency expressed in his prints is not without hope when juxtaposed with the Ojihozo Series and Watson’s Rock Formations. The possibility of a relationship based on reverence and respect is the first step towards changing course. Human kind exists in alliance with the Earth, not despite it, and acknowledging this relationship is where the shift towards a healthier planet begins. Of Earth: Image and Clay inspires a conscientious look at our values, a reassessment of our material instincts, and a re-acknowledgment of our sense of creation.
Identities: Cultural Creations
Identities: Cultural Creations featuring artwork by Misoo and Wendy Copp is on display at GreenTARA Space until July 14th, 2019. In the midst of a contemporary culture that habitually overlooks the female perspective, Misoo and Copp have created artwork that illuminates their personal identity in a way that insists on respect and serves to empower those who encounter it. By creating imaginary realities for the viewer to experience, Misoo and Copp project a deeper meaning that can only be understood by abandoning the traditional frame of reference.
In the reality occupied by Misoo’s paintings she reigns supreme. Pulling from her experiences as a minority, and the sense of alienation felt as an Asian woman in Vermont, she created The Giant Asian Girls and The Giantess Series. To surpass her imposed cultural identity she amplifies her self and her message. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse she uses art to regain her power, heal, and reframe the world that women, minorities, and abuse survivors occupy. She manifests the sentiment best stated by Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Stepping in front of a painting by Misoo, the viewer is greeted by a grand woman with a chorus of collaged imagery depicting common cartoons and the triumphs of man as found in history books. Despite the sheer volume of collaged imagery within each painting, those moments are strikingly insignificant compared to the presence of each woman who sits upon them. Each subject’s silent stare speaks louder than the many voices surrounding her. In fact it is only within the figure that a calm moment can be found, and in this calmness is depth, and strength, and the power Misoo wishes to share. Her women are regal and composed. Almost all are making eye contact in that way that only a painting can; with a gaze that is always direct. The eyes silently say “I am here.”
The Giant Asian Girls Series addresses violence against women and the racial stereotypes experienced by Asian women in Western society. In defiance of the Western fetishization of Asian women, the subjects in these portraits are dressed in everyday clothes, and assume relaxed positions that accentuate their comfort, and not the sexuality of their body. The Giantess Series includes similarly empowered women who are real life abuse survivors. The artist’s intent is to restore the sense of self worth that is lost when abused, and bring to life the presence of her cultural and feminine identity in epic proportions.
Misoo’s paintings draw the viewer in by demanding attention with their massive presence, amplified in contrast to the intricacy of the collaged elements. A reoccurring theme within each collage is the relationship of man to the land; here he is conquering a frontier, felling a tree, waging a war. There is his house of worship, defying gravity in the name of religion. This onslaught of information brings the viewer to an extreme point of contemplation, which is gently transformed into meditation once Copp’s sculptures enter the narrative.
Copp’s pieces are a remembrance of our relationship to the earth, and a renewal of our perspective of how we are linked to nature. Where Misoo orients through contrast, Copp does so through connection. Her sculptural assemblages of natural materials take on familiar forms: animal masks with character, dresses and shoes reminiscent of high fashion. The thought of entering a sculpture and wearing it brings about the possibility of fully merging with nature to form an identity that honors the earth and the feminine spirit that Copp represents in her compositions.
At certain points in her life Copp has set out into the wilds of Vermont with a pack and a horse. On these lengthy solo journeys she immersed herself in nature. These experiences allowed her to access her instincts, and left a lasting impression that is evident in the visceral quality of her sculptures, and the method in which she approaches her art practice. Her creative process starts in nature with the choice of barks, leaves, and grasses she collects, and mirrors the evolution of nature by honoring the inevitability of change, decomposition, and renewal. Her sculptures are not static when presented in the gallery, but are seen in a phase of their evolution, bound to grow again into new forms.
Many of her sculptures are made of the invasive Phragmites grass, which grows in great thickets all across Vermont and the US. Phragmites’ imposing height decreases wetland biodiversity by blocking the sun from other plants, and creates an unfavorable habitat for fauna by growing in dense clusters. In the areas that Phragmites has taken over, it is impossible for native plant and animal ecology to survive and flourish. By using this material Copp acknowledges invasive dominance as an inherent characteristic of nature, but also uses it as a metaphor for aggressive human encroachment, which has become overbearing and devastating for the earth.
It is in this way that Copp shares her perspective that being marginalized and encroached upon can be intrinsic to being a woman. While traveling alone in the woods of Vermont she found that a bear rummaging nearby would illicit fear, but it was only when unknown persons were in proximity that she felt a sense of potential danger. In these moments she was most aware that she was vulnerable as a woman alone. In defiance of that sensation she cultivated the courage to continue to experience the world, despite that underlying sense of vulnerability. With this perspective her dresses and shoes can be observed as sculptural armor, adorned to protect and embolden.
Identities: Cultural Creations celebrates the defiance of fear and vulnerability while promoting inner strength, the feminine spirit, and the courage to persevere as a minority. Both artists have triumphed in their presentation of artwork that does not limit itself to a display of what they can create, but acts as a convincing demonstration of who they can be. By stepping outside the constructs perpetuated by history, society, and common perspectives, they offer the pleasure of art that speaks to the core, offering a hope of connection and understanding. As Jericho Brown stated “hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.” And so have Misoo and Wendy Copp wielded such hope.