Installation view (Artists from left to right: Fred Vorder-Bruegge, Pia Bakala, Rachel Youn)
Curated by Charlotte Street resident Andrew Ordonez, “Sweeping the Chimney through the Mantle of the Earth” is an exhibition about the decay of the world. Each artists tackles their own concept of ruin through painting, sculptures, photography, film and drawing. With all the exhibition’s artists living in the Central Time Zone, the show provides a cross section of America and Mexico, focusing on shared experiences of finding tragic beauty in our recent past.
Jose Villalobos’s installation “Lo Que Existe Entre Paredes” is a large cinder block wall, painted white and topped with dozens of broken Coca-Cola and Juarito’s bottles, planted like dangerous flowers. Across the wall, a single line of homophobic graffiti is scrawled “PUTO el que lo leea” (roughly meaning “gay if you read this”). Behind the wall, one can look at a photograph and see that the entire scene is a recreation of an actual wall near his grandfather’s house in Juarez, Mexico. The homophobic machismo of the graffiti becomes smaller and pathetic as Villalobos defiantly transplants it into the gallery space, unafraid of expressing his own queer identity.
Rachel Youn’s “Pendulum” is a sculpture constructed of steel sawhorses, a dismantled baby swing, fake plant leaves and dirt. The mechanical baby swing is turned into an improvised metronome, its automated rocking mechanism used to make the fake plant leaves sweep piles of dirt across the floor. The sound of the sweeping leaves provides a subtle and monotonous rhythm to the entire exhibition space. The whole thing looks fragile, like it might collapse or break at any moment. It is like a pacemaker made from a garbage dump, and leads one to disturbing questions: how long will this sculpture last? How long will anything last?
Ximena Prieto’s “contenido en casa” is perhaps the best work of the exhibition. In a small screening room at the back of the gallery, Prieto’s film plays on loop. A camera operator walks through an empty old mansion, while an elderly woman recounts summers of the past spent at the house. The audio layers upon itself, fading in and out, rendering the stories incomplete. The many rooms are covered in vibrant antique wallpapers, carpets and curtains. Though it is daytime, the sunlight outside is so bright that the camera can barely pick up the dark, shadowy rooms. Furniture is covered with sheets, pipes on bathtubs have begun to rust. Lives were lived here and now everyone has gone elsewhere. It’s a story as old as civilization, but it never loses its impact.
Also in the exhibition are two works from Jada Patterson’s “What was Left” series, one a simple sun hat and another a fancier Sunday hat, both made entirely of translucent beeswax. Kevin Demery’s “From The Earth We Came To The Earth We Shall Return” is an enormous crucifix lying on the ground, made of boxes filled with dirt and blue glass bottles, a reference to a tradition brought to America by African slaves who would hang blue bottles from trees. Juan Molina Hernández’s “herencia” is a wall full of photos of his family alongside religious icons and potted plants. Fred Vorder-Bruegge’s “Sad Awning” is a sculpture of found materials made to resemble the ruined awning of a building. Other works include Donald Pruitt’s graphite and colored pencil drawings of weather forecasts, ambulances, ghosts and storms and Pia Bakala’s expressionist paintings of nude transwomen.
The work in “Sweeping the Chimney through the Mantle of the Earth” is vast and each artist is very different. Yet it isn’t hard to see why curator Andrew Ordonez has brought it all together. Everywhere you look in this exhibition, you see ruin, decay, a sense of a past world that is now gone. Ordonez compares it to the Romanticism art movement of 19th-century Europe. But instead of paintings of ancient ruins and crumbling castles, these artists are fascinated by the ruins of our recent modern world. Something has been lost, but what remains is all the more truthful and revealing.
“Sweeping the Chimney through the Mantle of the Earth” continues at the Charlotte Street Foundation, 3333 Wyoming St. through May 21. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.221.5115 or www.charlottestreet.org.
All photos by E.G. Schempf