Anthropocene Blues at Wayfarers Captures our Ephemeral Moment

A certain slant of self-reflection pervades artworks on view in Anthropocene Blues, on view at Wayfarers, Brooklyn (1109 DeKalb Ave) from September 29th through October 20th, 2019. Inspired by a poem written in 2012 by one of the last remaining Beat poets, the exhibition features reference to an elegiac view of nature – one foregrounded by our current climate crisis. The poem, written by Anne Waldman, refers to a “tragedy of the Anthropocene.” Works on view for the exhibition intimate at these ongoing issues, selections soaringly curated by Jane Ursula Harris. A New York-based writer who has contributed to Art in America, Artforum, BOMB, The Paris Review & more, Harris is an art history faculty member at the School of Visual Arts.

The exhibit features works by Wayfarers member artists Kate Alboreo, Yael Azoulay, Brian Davis, George Ferrandi, Cynthia Mason, Kharis Kennedy, Kate Kosek, David McQueen, Cynthia Reynolds, Maureen O’Leary, Meredith Starr and Elise Wunderlich. Mixed-media sculptures, paintings, installation and new media all combine to showcase a considerable range of artworks on view in this exhibit. Of particular notes, Azoulay’s installation True Cover provokes vivid links to alienation and immigration by tracing the introduction of the Eucalyptus plant to Israel, where it is not native. Meredith Starr’s almost obsessively crowded installation Plastic Pools/Look At What We’ve Done suggests, in miniature, the overwhelming amount of plastic that we have hoarded and discarded through our rampant consumerist attitudes.

Installation view, “Anthropocene Blues” (painting, Maureen O’Leary and installation, Meredith Starr)

Particularly haunting is Maureen O’Leary’s painting Untitled, in which attendees at a nighttime barbecue seem look past one another, obscured by smoke and flanked by ghostly dark trees and a bright moon. O’Leary’s deft treatment of light and shadow transform a social event into a scene of foreboding: the shadow of the trees behind seem to embrace the rising smoke emanating from the cooking fire below, forming a joint visual block that crowds out the human figures in the center and right side of the picture plane. Food is being cooked and consumed. Guests are overshadowed by the forest beyond. This juxtaposition of familiar and alien, consumption and rejection, elevate O’Leary’s subject matter – as does her study of contrasts between realism and impressionism. O’Leary depicts enough to make the scene feel vaguely familiar while leaving the trails of smoke and memory to each individual’s imagination. This blend of personal and universal – the view of consumption reminds us of our presence as consumers endangering the wider environment – proves to be almost intoxicating.

Installation view, “Anthropocene Blues” (L–R, Maureen O’Leary, George Ferrandi and Meredith Starr)

On October 11th, the curator held a conversation with artist Maureen O’Leary, who has both a painting and a photograph in the show. In conversation with O’Leary, Harris noted the prominence of the firelight by remarking that fire is a primal expression of humanity’s control over nature. The conversation continued around light: O’Leary engaging in the relationship between light and human nature, our existence and our yearning for belonging, both now and in the future, on an uncertain planet. Time and light, it turns out, are intrinsically linked: the relationship between humanity’s existence and the evolution of light’s role in advances in society can be distilled – it turns out – to a single barbecue scene in the Long Island woods.

Anthropocene Blues, curated by Jane Ursula Harris and on view at Wayfarers, Brooklyn (1109 DeKalb Ave) from September 29th through October 20th, 2019, serves as the 9th Annual Juried members show at the space.

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