Water provides the aqueous conceptual glue binding together the work in this 12 artist group exhibition. Curator Lilly Wei conceived the exhibition “on a playful note, [as] an early Spring show that looks forward to Summer.” I am not sure if this curatorial conceit serves the art well, as it establishes a very literal common denominator which perhaps dilutes the potency of the individual pieces, turning them into eclectic examples of “water art.” Nevertheless, a few of the artists presented here break this surface tension.
Patty Chang presents a notable video piece entitled “Fountain,” in which we see a woman (presumably the artist), closely examining her face in the mercurial mirror of a still pool of water. After a few moments of narcissistic reflection she leans down and begins kissing and then slowly slurping up the water. She drinks the shallow pool, revealing an actual mirror at the bottom. The piece then seamlessly begins again. With great economy, as well as sensual allure, Chang seems to be exploring water as a metaphor of reflection on multiple levels. The reflection off the water is fugitive—a liquid image—while the mirror, with it’s fixed optics, could be seen as a revelation of that which is more essential (although still unreal.)
James Sheehan shows a very small painting (2 × 2 3/8 inches), with an accompanying magnifying glass, titled “The Empiricist.” The surface is a kind of pinpoint impasto creating a fairly indistinct swarm of sprinkly colors when viewed with the naked eye. When the looking glass is employed, the crusted surface blooms into pictorial space. The scene recalls Rubens’ paintings of undersea grotto bacchanals, yet here the narrative remains unclear, with a central figure of a man holding what appears to be a martini shaker as a row of women wait seated to one side. I suppose the empiricist here is the examining viewer willing to take up the lens.
Arlene Shechet’s “Casting Water: River Leak” is intriguing, although more in what we can surmise of the process of facture from the title, than for the objects displayed. Two sets of overlapping gray rubber blobs on the floor appear to capture the specific aqua-dynamics of a moving body of water. The rubber ebbs outward across the floor in ever smaller concentric rings. Artists working in “Nature,” a term which should be understood in quotes post-Smithson, are still investigating the casting of indeterminate natural formations and the aesthetics of ruination, yet there is a technical craftiness to “Casting Water” which undermines what one assumes to be its effort to be ugly.
Smithson’s “Rundowns” unlocked conceptions of nature because they moved in the opposite direction—performing an act of visceral despoliation which, upon reflection, turned out to beautiful and harmless. “Casting Water,” while transforming free flowing water into a gray rubber slurry, is not yet nasty enough to be beautiful, and so cannot meaningfully disrupt the pristine Rotunda space, a goal which presumably lies at the heart of a process of bringing the outside in.
JOHN HAWKE is a contributor to the Rail.
Water, Wind, Breath: Southwest Native Art in CommunityBy Jonathan Fineberg
APRIL 2022 | ArtSeen
Lucy Fowler Williams, a curator from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, has brought an historical overview to both the Water, Wind, Breath catalogue and to the exhibition itself, telling the history of the encounter between technologically advanced European cultures and Native Americans in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.
Mary Mattingly: Public WaterBy Julie Reiss
JUL-AUG 2021 | ArtSeen
In June 2020, Mary Mattingly and More Art launched A Year of Public Water, a collaboration that uses various platforms to inform its audience about the sources of New Yorks water supply.
from All the Water I’ve Seen Is RunningBy Elias Rodriques
JUNE 2021 | Fiction
In Elias Rodriques forthcoming novel, All the Water Ive Seen Is Running, Daniel, a queer mixed-race Jamaican-American man living in New York City is drawn back to the conservative North Florida town he once dreamed of escaping, after learning of the sudden death of a close friend. What follows is unlike any coming of age story Ive ever read. Returning to his former home stirs up memories long suppressed, but Rodriques lyrical excavation of Daniel digs into not only his childhood but also the experiences of his family in Jamaica. Though alienated from most of his peers as a teen because of his race, class, sexuality, and nationality, Rodriques sets Daniel in vivid nature scenessuch as the one that begins this excerptto show how he made his own home on the water. The dialogue throughout the novel is also a highlight, as we see how fluidly Daniel is able to code-switch to navigate between his multiple identities.
Colonial Waterscapes: The Water Issue in Puerto Rico
River Rail Puerto Rico | River Rail
To fully grasp the current state, and the issue of water in general, we need to ponder the history of the waterscape in Puerto Rico and the changing social circumstances that have influenced its making, without losing sight of the role that both capitalism and colonialism have played in this process.