by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is presenting an immersive curation of Louisiana-based artist, Dawn DeDeaux’s multimedia, multifaceted practice. The exhibition takes a look at the American artist's works that examine several pressing and urgent aspects of human existence, including population growth, rapid industrial “growth” and climate change. The Space Between Worlds is a retrospective exhibition, which looks at the last 50 years of artistic practice through a contemporary lens and almost futuristic setting. DeDeaux’s practice spans installation, video art, performance art and painting, drawing no lines between medium or form. Her work has been exhibited at numerous venues, such as Whitney Museum of American Art, Armand Hammer Museum, Canadian Film Society of Toronto and Ballroom Marfa. The multimedia artist as well as the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at NOMA, Katie Pfohl, speak with STIR about the ongoing exhibition which opened on October 22, 2021 and will continue to be on view until January 23, 2022.
Pfohl introduces the exhibition saying, “DeDeaux lost her art studio and most of her archive during Hurricane Katrina, and we had to restore or remake much of the work in her retrospective. As a curator, seeing her work anew, and together for the first time, it has been so rewarding to witness the connections that have emerged across time and space, as well as how prescient so much of her art has been, particularly in light of climate change. So much of her art is immersive and installation-based, and takes the abstractions of numbers and data and transforms it into an intimate, emotional experience that I think has such a capacity both to move people, and move the dial on some of the issues she is addressing.”
The curator notes the contextual relevance brought to light by DeDeaux’s artworks. Each work undertaken by the artist brings an opportunity for her audience to relate deeply, and reflect on their environment, a feature of her practice which is not commonly found in artists today who prefer to craft faraway conceptual notes which mean naught. Pfohl underlines this thought saying, “In the wake of Hurricane Ida, especially, to be able to offer people in New Orleans a space to process their experiences has been such a gift. It would be easy to look at the themes DeDeaux addresses and feel hopeless, but I hope that people also see in her ability to keep creating in the face of disaster, time and time again, that it is always possible to imagine and work toward a different future”.
NOMA records that DeDeaux was one of the first artists in America to trace connections between global ecological collapse and social justice issues. DeDeaux tells us the story of how she came to terms with the disastrous effects of climate change saying, “I am the only sibling among six children who has not had a major cancer. As the oldest child, and before my teens, I watched unimaginable suffering and the diminishing stages of death (along with millions of children worldwide on a daily basis). I observed the emotional and psychological impact on my parents in a marriage that could not survive the grief, and this threw me into an early independence and into the currents of complex thought. There is no history of cancer in either my mother or father's genealogical history, so where did this silent killer come from...what contaminant did we encounter? Before understanding the impact of carbon monoxide, I knew there was some invisible predator beneath my feet and in the clouds.” The artist’s video installation, ONE DROP (2010), created following the BP oil spill (Deepwater Horizon oil spill) attempts to reveal the myriad connections between human action and suffering, connected by our collective home - earth.
One of the striking traits of DeDeaux’s work is its immersive nature, and its capacity to draw you in deeply into its narrative. A viewer need not know a great deal about contemporary art to be able to connect with her work. She says, “I have felt duty-bound to produce works that reach diverse audiences… I like to prompt in viewers a deeper curiosity and participation in pressing matters impacting our existence. I aim to transcend our different points of origins through the emotional language of art that has emerged from our collective experiential intelligence. Even in critique, I hope to elevate the discourse into something aspirational. In this regard, I consider myself a public artist first and foremost.”
DeDeaux is one of the few artists I have come across, after interviewing over a hundred, who advocates ecological sensitivity and is critically aware of the shortcomings of her own practice in this regard as well. This awareness is pivotal to a holistic creative practice, recognising that without it there is a dissonance between artistic practice and artistic preaching. DeDeaux shares with us that she too continues to be on a journey of learning, and striving to be better. “I know I am still part of the problem and work continually to reduce my footprint. In my art practice, my early media works still use electricity, and some of my two-dimensional works have been printed on substrates that are not always environmentally sound. This is why, whenever possible, I work on archival paper and I often utilise pre-existing found objects in my recycled sculptures to cut down on the consumerist mass heap of things.” DeDeaux’s words are an encouraging sign, shedding light on a part of environmental awareness that we often forget - to forgive ourselves for not being perfect but never forgetting to always try to be better.