Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Identity Crises: A reaction to the oil spill.

 Artful Living, recently morphed from Simple Living (which focused mostly on decorative arts) is a combination frame shop, co-op, and as of lately, a gallery space.  Owner Rob Davidson does the framing. Melissa Van Der Laak and Missy Roll tend to everything else save for the custom giclee printing, which is done by photographer and accomplished printer Clint Thomas.

 The present show, Identity Crisis: A reaction to the oil spill, is their second. Curated by photographer Missy Roll, the show includes the work of seventeen artists in a variety of media, including a performance art piece shown at the opening/Artists's Reception held on August sixth.

 The oil spill has cast a long and largely invisible shadow over us. The furious volcanic  video of oil erupting from the broken pipe, horrible images of animals succumbing to the brown goo, ruined estuaries, people in hazmat suits, tar balls washing ashore and much more. But all of these things happened elsewhere. Calculated stonewalling and virulent disinformation on the part of those responsible, and inaction from the federal level have had the desired effect of keeping us in the dark, and relegating the spill to the realm of the mythological.

All we have are words, and contradictory ones, at that. The artist D.S. Frutko currently has a piece partially about keywords from the oil spill at Sebastian Thomas Gallery, at 635 Central Ave, St. Pete.

Our beaches still look the same, except perhaps for fewer tourists, as if nothing has happened. The oil spill lies beyond our senses. Like a shared nightmare, the spill has sunk into the lower levels of our minds, skulking like the huge oil plumes around the cold bottom of the Gulf, as it is in our psyches.

 In this show a disappointing number of works reacted to this complex, traumatizing issue in  a  reflexive manner. Some of these artists are people I know, whose work I am familiar with, but on this issue they suffered an identity crisis, de-individuated, and created weaker, more generic, sentimental work. Some of this was doubtlessly due to people cobbling up work to get into the show, but not all. What happened here? Responsibility ultimately rests on the curator, but why did so many artists bypass hard-earned artistic awareness and knowledge for a brick-bat, oil spill = 'bad' approach? 
At the base level, this is a deceptively facile issue for artists. Maybe too easy. At other levels, our fingerprints are on the knife. Would BP be sucking oil out of the ground a mile underwater if there wasn't market demand for it?

Nicole Desiree Hays, owner of Cirqueville Entertainment and performance artist, designed and staged a work consisting of five models dressed in black shorts or tankinis, smeared with something that looked like oil, in poses that made them look dead or dying. It was a moving conceptual tableaux, about how the oil has affected the beings it has touched physically, and us mentally and spiritually.

--- Luis

Ps. Identity Crisis: A Reaction to The Oil Spill can be seen at Artful Living, at 1100 1st Avenue North St Pete. 727.821.2266 No closing date was given.

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