Landscapes of loss
What: "Water's Edge: Landscapes for Today"
Where: Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St.
WHEN: Through Sun., May 19
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
A scant three days after viewing “Water’s Edge: Landscapes for Today” at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, I awoke to the unsurprising news that a report had just been published by the United Nations noting that as many as one million of Earth’s plant and animal species are currently at risk of extinction, and that humans are mostly to blame.
The corollary between the findings of the 1,500-page document—which was compiled by hundreds of international experts and is based on thousands of scientific studies—and the subject matter of the third biennial Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition was instantly obvious.
When guest curator Bruce Guenther selected pieces from across the United States for the show, he was seeking an array of contemporary artworks that addressed viewers’ understanding of the Earth, climate change, and the evolving relationships of humanity to nature. Guenther was successful in his endeavor. From the more than 800 works of art that were up for consideration, he chose 71 pieces by 57 artists that are vastly different, yet manage to impart what he calls “spirit of place.”
From renderings of ecological indicators like lichen, springs and green algae, to Meg Aubrey’s stark urban meditations in “The Pick Up,” to a lovely photograph of a river in Tennessee that was taken at the place where the last arc-form pearly mussel was seen in 1941, the eye-opening exhibit provides much food for thought.
Some pieces—like Patti Bowman’s “Wave 1” and Philip Govedare’s “Artifact”—are abstractions that become clearer and more imbued with meaning after a second look. Same goes for Amy Ferron’s “Over Our Heads” and Holly Hagan’s “Path.”
Other artists worked with nature to come to complete their visions. I’m thinking in particular of photographer Margaret Byrd, whose “Cool Cube” and “Granite Stack” images of melting ice cubes she colored with pink swamp mallow and purple butterfly pea flowers made for arresting props against the beauty of Norway’s Vikten beach.
I was drawn in by the many arresting ways in which artists chose to interpret “Water’s Edge,” and cast my “People’s Choice” vote for Gary Aagaard’s “Ma Nature Revisited.” The oil painting features a stern woman dressed in black. She’s standing on parched earth with remnants of the current administration’s excesses behind her. It’s harrowing, but also weirdly hopeful.
“Remnants of Trump donors lie in the rubble,” Aagaard explains. “Her bag of tricks (storms, fires, floods) appears empty—for now. While Ma Nature may be temporarily out of counterattacks, and the landscape looks destroyed, she shows a resilient and steadfast face. She warns of her power and cunning.”
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