the mud at our feet takes its title from poet Mary Oliver’s “Winter Hours,” in which she writes: “The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family. There’s no sense in honoring one thing or a few things, and then closing the list… we are at risk together or we are on our war to a sustainable world together.” This poetic epigraph puts Atlanta artist Sarah Nathaniel in conversation with New York-based artist Komikka Patton at Swan Coach House Gallery.
Guest curator Makeda Lewis discovered Komikka Patton on Instagram (@komikka_the_seed) where her followers can watch as she intricately builds her collages layer by layer. Patton’s tender drawings of her self and her friends appear to answer the question Makeda Lewis poses in her curatorial statement: “How can we overcome the instinct to isolate and detach in favor of building community and increasing the chance of not only survival but a sustainably joyful life for ourselves and future generations?”
Patton’s figures exist among the stars; they guide us to consider the future, carry our histories, and sit peacefully with ourselves. Her spiritual engagement with the work underscores their divine qualities. In a 7-minute Instagram video, Patton fixes the camera on a work from the exhibition titled The Multiverse and their portals, during which the collage is activated by a sound and smoke bath. The smoke weaves through the composition’s cosmos, squeezing between two Black women guardians in profile, whose mirrored Afros have galaxies within them. Patton’s play with light and dark is contained in her limited color palette of black and white with some gold accents and amplified by bouncing off the vibrant sunlit white walls. Nathaniel’s use of dark black ropes in her installation Space & direct complements the tactile material additions that hang off and emerge from Patton’s collages.
Patton’s poetic titles harken back to Mary Oliver’s writings and as well as mantras for living a connected life. Titles such as When life gives you tap water make Holy water and Follow the thread, unravel the Tapestry, so I can see how it is made, and why it landed in my lap articulate the spiritual connection viewers can find in works. The nod to African traditions is present in Patton’s imagery: an abundance of cowrie shells both drawn on and tied to the paper, Black women adorned with headwraps, body modifications, and sacred imagery illustrate the connection between the mystical and physical. Patton set up an altar to honor her ancestors and welcome them to the space at the opening.
Sarah Nathaniel’s installation, Space & direct, creates a cavity of the elegant gallery space. Seven slick and shiny, black polypropylene ropes hang in low ‘U’s that tempt visitors to peer down and weave through the portal of their alignment. Like a still wave, or the invisible form of an echo, the ropes measured hang narrow and get closer together the further one enters the gallery. The installation serves as a barrier and point of a pass into the black holes and cosmic portals Patton’s subjects rest within. Nathaniel’s exploration of line expands from the rope hanging into its intricate shadow play on the floor. Depending on the vantage point and time of day, bisecting lines of rope and shadow create new sightlines to engage with Patton’s collages. The natural bow of the rope’s form is echoed by the sparing gold lines radiating from Patton’s subjects’ faces. Together, both artists’ works bring an auto-ethnographic history to Swan Coach House Gallery and encourage viewers to consider our cosmic connections.