by Jones JohnSep 07, 2020
The presence of water at a place has been an indicator of human life and over the centuries it turned into a ubiquitous symbol of the connection between people and cultures. The ancient trade routes across the continents via sea still find their traces in the contemporary day marine navigation maps and nautical charts. In the past few decades, water bodies have faced the brunt of climate change. Harking on these salient features of water, the exhibition Rhe: everything flows at Galerie Lelong & Co., New York, holds ‘water’ as the central theme around which various artists from variegated places exchange visual conversation of its omnipresent quality. The group exhibition in collaboration with Galleries Curate: RHE, an international contemporary art platform, has the works by leading artists such as Petah Coyne, Andy Goldsworthy, Jane Hammond, Alfredo Jaar, Rosemary Laing, Cildo Carolee Schneemann, Kate Shepherd, and Catherine Yass, to name a few. When water permeates the life of everyone on earth, the exhibition promises to offer artistic responses that carry a visual expression pinned with diversity. This is reflected in the myriad of media available at the exhibition: film, painting, photography, performance art pieces and mixed-media works.
As soon as the crisis of pandemic swept across the corner of the world, the need of the hour demanded collective action against the individual responses. In a similar fashion, Galleries Curate: RHE is a response to soaring challenges the times of pandemic posed. Clement Delepine, coordinator of RHE, an independent curator, writer, and co-director of Paris Internationale, in an interview with STIR, elaborates on the curatorial theme of water to connect a wide variety of works. “The theme of water in Galleries Curate: RHE unifies the presentations taking place in each individual gallery and represents the international collaboration of 21 diverse galleries from all around the globe. Water is a universal need with so many interpretations - it is a resource guarded by geopolitics, it is a passage through which peoples and cultures travel, and it is found in our natural environment. There are many ways one can relate to water,"mentions Delepine. The term RHE is an embodiment of both unity and impermanence, which finds its roots in the Greek philosophy of Heraclitus. Like water is never stagnant, the culture is free from any strict notions of boundaries to interact with new and even old order of things. To remain in constant flux is the first step towards survival against all odds.
With the dawn of art practices that oversaw the archival material as the potential knowledge system to investigate and represent the politics of contemporary times, there was a crucial shift in the conventional use of material and mediums. The exhibition underscores this change with the works of artists such as Jarr, Shephard, Stuart and Yass. The water bodies have come to serve as a deciding factor of the geopolitical relations between the nations. Furthermore, it has turned into a cheap yet risky route for the refugees to travel from the place of disturbance to a point of finding hope. Alfredo Jaar’s installation Untitled (Water)E highlights the same duality of water when a line of five lightboxes shows photographs of a blue ocean, and a row of small mirrors, on the wall behind the lightboxes, reveal the faces of Vietnam refugees including children, adults and adolescents. As the refugees wait for their fate in the detention centres in Hong Kong, post the Vietnam War, their life continues to hang in limbo. The interactive nature of the installation paves the way for examination of human exploitation in the face of war and its aftermath.
To give an illusion of painting with the photograph, Kate Shepherd creates Car Wash. The artist states, “The reason I titled this Car Wash is that it captures looking through a windshield as though it were a painting. I made it by manipulating and recording soap and water on a blank enamel panel. The shapes don’t have obvious references to things so the liquid can call attention to the dynamic substance itself. It’s a very active painting created by an actual ‘event’ in time”. Michelle Stuart’s Mysterious Tidal Fault is a suite of 35 photographs, which were largely taken off a TV report about the tidal flaws of Valdez Alaska, the place known for the tidewater glaciers, rainforests, and majestic mountains. The installation traces the role of humans laced with the desire to overpower nature and how it squarely disregards the fragility prevalent of nature.
The representative of the Michelle Stuart Studio elaborates on the making of this work, “These photographs are interspersed with photographs Michelle took of ships on the ocean. Without using Photoshop, she then altered all the original images by cropping and making them black and white, plus collaging some of them. The images are printed on archival paper and placed on the wall and rearranged many times over in the same way one would work with line, shape, and form in a drawing or painting, and with the same intent of creating a unified composition that moves the viewers' eyes through and around it, thus creating the same push and pull one finds in a painting with no traditional perspective, but with depth, pushing back and forward. To some degree, the chance is involved but it’s harnessed. Michelle has done multiple works on faults going back to the early 70s, including Scanning Sequence collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.”
Catherine Yass’s Lighthouse is a still image that she captured during a tour to the coast of East Sussex, England, to make her 12-minute film of the same name. The Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, acquired a photographic work in the same series, Lighthouse. Its director, Ena Heller, declares, “Yass often talks about photography as a language, noting that in order to understand it, one needs to study it, to deconstruct and understand it. To do that, she has experimented with the ‘wrong’ materials or chemicals; has shot under different light; has reversed the order of processes, and – as illustrated here – has superimposed positive and negative images”.
Since the works in the exhibition are cognizant of the physical as well as the politicised merits of water, it acutely draws attention to the need to preserve it for a balanced life between humans and nature. The exhibition is hopeful to, as Delepine rightly puts it, “remind us of how interconnected we all are, and how much we need each other to survive and flourish”.
The exhibition RHE: everything flows runs at Galerie Lelong & Co. until February 13, 2021.