In the compelling Natural Transcendence, the multi-media installation Where Water and Rock Collide (2021) by Wendy Wischer stands out as the sole work fueled by evocations of geography, history, and climate crisis west of the Mississippi. It’s a perspective rarely seen in South Florida, given this region’s many ties to the Caribbean and Latin America. The vivid presence of water from the drought-affected Colorado River in her installation, presented for the first time in Miami Beach, offers an implicit reference to the environmental challenge of rising seas facing greater Miami. This reference is apt since Wischer, based in Salt Lake City, was formerly based in Miami.
Curated by filmmaker and video artist Rhonda Mitrani, Natural Transcendence opened on June 16 at Oolite Arts. It encompasses seven works; they incorporate photography or video or both. Each addresses in varying degrees a besieged environment. Mitrani believes the pandemic-induced social isolation has brought artists in more spiritual contact with the natural world. In her curator’s statement, she writes, “By fusing themselves into the natural world, these artists give us a chance to feel this “Natural Transcendence” not just as the sublime or as a sense of awe, but hopefully as a wake-up call.”
Where Water and Rock Collide manages to evoke natural beauty in the context of dire threats to lands both west and east of the Mississippi, allowing Wischer’s multi-media installation to launch an urgent wake-up call. It’s based on her 9-day raft trip down the Colorado River in March 2020, days before lockdown. That January, Wischer learned there was suddenly room for her on a private rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. “It was a bucket-list opportunity,” remembered Wischer, who teaches video and conceptual practices at University of Utah, specializing in environmental visual art. She’s a member of the Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah. Having previously rafted on the Colorado, she explained, “With the drought, everything is receding. Some of what’s happening is that the banks are falling into sediment, the rapids are coming back that had been hidden. We’re seeing Native American ruins that are being revealed.”
During lockdown, Wischer created her multi-media installation for this exhibit, selecting 27 minutes of video from over 50 hours of video she shot from the raft. In the projected video the artist’s voice reflects on this journey, aware that drought and dams have sapped the river’s power. She’s mindful that the Colorado deserves respect and protection. Her lyrical musings suggest the trip is a metaphor for overcoming personal obstacles encountered during the coursing “river” of life. Evoking those obstacles are sculptural rocks, like rapids, on the installation’s platform a few inches above the floor. Mesmerizing and meditative, the installation’s video captures water in opalescent shades of blue, green, gold and brown. Water caresses and pummels the rocks. Splashing silver bubbles resemble pearls or stars, fleeting gifts for the vigilant witness. “Even when diminished to a trickle,” Wischer says, the river flows “with a ferocious tenacity.”
Where Water and Rock Collide in Natural Transcendence is on view at Oolite Arts in Miami Beach, FL through August 22, 2021.