Water, water, everywhere… is Erika Blumenfeld’s current eco-centric exhibition at Women & Their Work, and it is truly jaw-dropping in its marriage of concept with craft. The internationally-exhibited Parsons graduate and Guggenheim Fellow has had singular opportunities to explore the natural world – and its changing face – through a residency at the McDonald Observatory, an expedition to Antarctica, and a bioluminescence project with the Latz Laboratory at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
As an art historian who once told her first grade teacher she wanted to be either a paleontologist or an archaeologist when she grew up (my dad taught me the words for the subjects I loved), I am intellectually, physically, and emotionally exhilarated by Blumenfeld’s work. It sets my mind, heart, and pen racing, and my lips smiling.
Drought, recent wildfires, and man’s influence on nature are themes in the show. The visitor is greeted with a bonsai-trained Texas-native tree fed by a lab glassware water drip. The tree’s bright leaves stand out in the largely black and white show. Color digital pigment prints of charred trees and smoky landscapes could easily be mistaken for gelatin silver, and the tonal ranges of carbon and graphite are expertly rendered.
Permeating the space is a sacred ambiance. A low, wide pedestal displays a spiral mandala of charred remains retrieved from wildfires: wood, animal bones, pinecones. Tibetan singing bowls are interspersed, filled with smaller blackened remains, like reliquaries or offerings. Directly across is an altar-like pedestal displaying thick flakes of cracked earth from dried riverbeds. A projected photograph of similar cracks in situ rises up behind it. The tones of singing bowls are piped into the gallery, furthering the perception of a hallowed space.
These remains signal memory and evoke some mourning for a lost magnificence, for life reduced to object. The subdued space contrasts sharply with the horror of such disasters, and the show’s timing (though unintentional) takes on an additional significance given the recent loss of life in Arizona.
Her exhibition demonstrates the simultaneous activities of witnessing, cataloging, and curating, coupled with creative problem-solving and conscientiousness of craft. It is clean, elegant, and powerful. The result is an intelligent and finely wrought exhibition that is engaging to a diverse audience.
Water, water, everywhere… is on display through August 29, 2013
All images are sourced from Erika Blumenfeld’s website.