Curated by Maud Doyle and Sean Feiner
Death is mesmerizing to the living. And though we expect youth to be oblivious to life’s fragility, these seven contemporary artists under 25 interrogate our social construction and human understanding of nature’s temporality.
Artists, perhaps by their very nature as creators, have always been inspired by the organic, breathing world. The physicality inherent in the printmaking practice is at odds with the artists' attempt to capture a fleeting moment in the existence of a continuous material object. The work of Salama and Shome recycle the remnants of living things in the creation of new forms. The disparity between the materials, practices, and depicted subjects that make up these works generate a space for the viewer's exploration.
In these works, the potential of natural, once-living forms and materials is exploded through absences, calling on the viewer to remember his own human life by confronting it with its opposite. Salama’s work asks the the viewer to recall the fragility of human life by eschewing the human form in favor of a memory of its past presence. Likewise, Wallenberg’s something breaths a new life into the banal, historical hunting paintings that commemorate the prizes of chasseurs, and the more personal history of her of her own family.
The fragility of the living body creates a potential for violence in the tension between externality and interiority. Many of these artists work instinctually, and that rawness reflected in the works’ delicate surfaces, and feral interiors. Carter lends inanimate objects life by opening up their interiors like gutting a carcass, as in his kaleidoscopic Geode, or by giving objects the context of the living, as in The Munsters. Seemingly antithetical, the pendulous, delicate bodies of Wallenberg, Martin and Wang, too, refer to a tension between the animation of the artists’ living hand and the once-animated objects.
Wang, Ogden, and Shome, like Wallenberg, are interested in the human logos construction and organization of life. Shome’s sound piece epitomizes decontextualized reconstruction of nature, using sounds from the television series Planet Earth to create electronic music. Wang, too, interrogates the rational study of nature, identifying a disparity between nature’s changeability, and the scientific structure of narrative. Ogden, finally, locates dead life in a barnyard, transforming human sustenance into a pile of carcasses and animating the savage paradox of life.
Dead Life features the work of Nick Carter, Emily Martin, Liana Ogden, Cecilia Salama, Indy Shome, Elsa Wallenberg, and Joanne Wang. All student artists in Providence, Rhode Island at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, they effectively form a pedagogical network before and outside of the art world. Suspended between the process of creation and reception of the status as living, institutional work, the dialogue between these artworks generates a sense of the primordial.
Our process began by considering a close network of artists who were also our friends and peer students. In addition, the artists we had in mind were all dealing with natural forms or organic subject matter. Initially the artists considered included Liana Ogden, Nick Carter, and Emily Martin. We were sure we wanted some of Liana's dead pig prints, as well as Emily's crucified bird and Nick's geode. From here we started consider a thematic that linked this community of artists. While we knew we wanted to capture their organic subject matter, we also wanted to represent the community or "environment" in which the young artists were working. Expanding to our them Dead Lifewe were able to consider works that dealt with the inorganic that treated or represented the un-living as filled with life. From this we considered the works of Cecilia Salama, Indy Shome, and Joanne Wang. Cecilia and Indy were particularly of interest to us because both used "sampling" processes of living material (hair and plant matter and natural sounds respectively). After making studio visits to Elsa Wallenberg and Nick Carter we also expanded our works to include Elsa's "Game" series and Nick's The Munsters sculptures.
With all of the work collected we began arranging it in different ways in our space. We also were challenged by wiring for the media pieces of Wang and Shome. After several design placements (informed by sketches done before we had the work), we found a balance between mediums, form, color, and presence. With this balance we were able to install our works conjuring an environment of our young artists.
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Oil, acrylic medium and spray-paint on stretched watercolor paper.
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Graphite and watercolor on stretched watercolor paper
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Sounds sampled from Planet Earth
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Plastic wrap, ink, gesso, wood
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Video, 4:50 min
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Targets of Opportunity
Lithographs with encaustic
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We Are The Stairs Sped Up
Human Hair, dog hair, sunflower stamen, rubber, pantyhose
The following curatorial text on each author was prepared in a pamphlet available for viewers of the show. The pamphlet also included a truncated version of our curatorial statement.
| Nick Carter
||Nick Carter’s work is particularly engaged in the process of art-making. “Inspired as much by geodes as by carcasses,” he guts his subjects. Working instinctively, the banal objects he takes as his subjects are brought to a new, strange life by his unselfconscious experimentation with artistic materials. The Munsters mummifies that process - saran wrap and ink wrapping canvas, a gesso bucket, boxes, and finally the saran wrap box itself - both preserving and obfuscating what will have passed at the moment when the piece is declared finished. His Geode’s exposed interior relates that fascination with process to the formation of the natural world.|
| Emily Martin
||Emily Martin’s eerie lithograph captures an elusive moment between death and decay, effectively fossilizing a fragile instant in time through imaging it. The humanity of the drawing and the softness of the animal’s feathers are contrasted with the physicality of the lithography process, raising questions about temporality, creation, and what it means to etch a memory. The art historical references to the crucifixion and the harshness of the fine, printed raise questions about ethereality, narrative and the human capacity for violence.|
| Liana Ogden
||Liana Ogden explores the relationship between human and animal life, questioning the symbiotic relationship between life and death. The hairless rabbits in her Targets series identifies the discrepancy between the reproducible, process-heavy lithograph print and the highly physical, highly engaged application of encaustic, rendering each alien creature unique by the artist’s hand.|
| Cecilia Salama
||Cecilia Salama is interested in the dichotomies that make up our living reality: pure and carnal, geometric and organic, and filthy and clean. They evoke the memory of the human form through reference and absence. By amalgamating the remnants of living things, by what has been left behind - the wax of bees, the productive organs of sunflowers, the clipped hair of dogs and of humans, pantyhose - she creates artistic forms out of the usually forgettable elements of what was, and has since passed.|
| Indy Shome
||Indy Shome’s recycled sounds, borrowed from the explorative television series Planet Earth, have been restructured into a musical form that renders them almost unidentifiable, the organic source obscured by human construct. Shome borrows sounds from nature only accessible to humans using the most advanced tools----we do depend on technology to access and structure the living earth. Simultaneously a musical and spatial landscape, Laticauda reinvents the human music-making as a new, investigative form of representation.|
| Elsa Wallenberg
||Elsa Wallenberg’s Game paintings are deeply personal, invested with family history as well as with the history of hunting and commemorative hunting paintings. Underlying the banality of the art historical reference, these works are loaded with a Swedish industrial fortune whose architects promoted sport and science but had little patience for the arts. An investigation of the relationship between culture and capitalism, Wallenberg’s work explores “classic and conventional ideas of beauty.” She explores ideas of decor and ornamentation, interested in an understanding of culture against “nature,” where “culture is considered excessive, decadent and degenerate.|
| Joanne Wang
||Joanne Wang’s lyrical The Neptunists recasts scientific chronicling of nature, with all of its opinions and second opinions, as an explicative narrative of human, rather than “real,” origin. The “real” Neptunists believed in an obsolete, 18th century scientific theory, holding that all rocks on Earth formed from the Earth's oceans. The video addresses the futility of human constructions against the powerful destructive and productive force of the living earth.|
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Photography by Maud Doyle
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Photograph by Maud Doyle
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