Remember Earth? at CAC New Orleans

By September 08, 2022
a water damaged room with a floor made of sand. piles of blueprints lay on the right hand side under a set of windows over looking water with cranes. on the left hand side is a wardrobe made of wood with more blueprints and pieces of wood. At the very end of the room is a set of French Doors with blue curtains.
Debra Howell, Descriptio VI, 2021. Courtesy the artist and LeMieux Galleries.

In April 2022, the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, invited artists from across the Gulf South to submit artworks that reflect on issues surrounding the environment. Four months later, the 9th Annual Gulf South Open Call Exhibition, titled Remember Earth?, includes a selection of works by 54 artists from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Rather than standing as a testament to the breadth of artistic work that this region has to offer, however, Remember Earth? buckles under the weight of its overarching theme. A diluted sentiment of urgency takes the place of any real dialogue, as the exhibition stops short of making space for nuance in each artist’s practice. I found myself seeking solace in the softer, more poetic visions. 

Kelly Taylor Mitchell: Kin, Spirit, Seed on view at Westobou Gallery, Augusta

Kathleen Varnell’s East: From the rising of the sun (2018) and West: Unto the going down of the same (2018) are the first to offer a much-needed dose of tenderness. The two smoke-fired stoneware vessels contain faces that appear to emerge from within. Adorned with rusted jewelry, shells, and markings on their foreheads, Varnell’s works are like artifacts from a distant past. Their delicate and imperfect details echo the organic textures, folds, and movements of the materials with which they are formed. Their multi-directional stances evoke a sense of triumph and rebirth, speaking to the connections we share with those that came before us. 

In the adjacent gallery, Carlie Trosclair’s Area Rug (Home Is A Fleeting Feeling I Am Trying to Fix) (2020) proposes a similarly tactile respite. The artist has rendered a circular rug out of latex and gravel with the words “Home Is A Fleeting Feeling I Am Trying to Fix” embroidered along its circumference. The piece is both a personal reflection on the artist’s experience of relocation and a broader consideration of what it means to feel at home amidst widespread displacement. A rug defines the parameters of one’s space; it is a place to rest and return to. Within that, however, there is also a sense of delusion. Raised slightly off the ground in one section, Trosclair’s Area Rug refers to the act of overlooking or sweeping under. Home is a feeling that is constantly peeling away, no matter how firmly we attempt to fix it. 

a large grey and beige colored tapestry with blue ripples and ruffles hangs in the middle of the gallery.
Danielle Jones, What is Left, 2021. Photography by Bela Varela. Courtesy of the artist and CAC New Orleans.

I am reminded of the bright blue tarps that continue to decorate the damaged rooftops of the New Orleans skyline almost a year after Hurricane Ida. Kyle McLean’s Blue-Green Akari (Tarp Lamp 1) (2022) is constructed from this very material. Inspired by the warm simplicity of Isamu Noguchi’s light sculptures, McLean offers an elegant – if not faintly tongue-in-cheek – repurposing of an object that has come to symbolize not only disaster, but the ineptitude of companies and political bodies to respond with urgency. Soft light illuminates the slick blue from within; a resourceful gesture with a dystopian undertone.  

Tackling an exhibition about the environmental crisis is an unwieldy task. With calamity so fundamentally intertwined in all aspects of life, how does one even begin to distinguish that which pertains to “the environmental crisis” from that which does not? As is too often the case, environmental turmoil is presented back to us in a flattened and incohesive way. Foundations crumbling, glaciers melting, trash piling up in heaps; we are heading towards an inevitable demise and this is what it looks like. In this sense, Remember Earth? feels more like an echo than a rally cry. But perhaps there is something to take away from the futility of it all. As we brace ourselves for another hurricane season, along with the whopping twenty-one days that Entergy has estimated the city would be without power, the more subtle artworks in the exhibition end up leaving the most defined mark. There will be moments of quiet, joy, and humor in the chaos, they seem to promise. There is beauty to be found in the rubble, to be refashioned from it, time and time again. 

Remember Earth? is on view at CAC New Orleans thru September 25, 2022.

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