“Between Bodies" uses multimedia, multisensory works of art to immerse us in discomfiting, sensuously beautiful encounters with other bodies — humans, animals, microorganisms, and more. Also, these are the last few days to catch two other local exhibitions in which artists address environmental issues.
By now many of us have heard the dire predictions in the recent U.S. government report on climate change, from worsening wildfires, droughts and air pollution, to economic losses of billions of dollars a year by the end of the century.
Notwithstanding the Trump administration’s discounting of the findings — saying that modeling “is extremely hard to do when you’re talking about the climate” — in actuality, the report employed the sound, and very common, scientific method of generating models based on past and current data. According to the report, the scenarios “span a range of plausible future changes in key environmental parameters” including variations in temperature, sea-level rise and population. These scenarios allow us to envision our future.
Similarly, contemporary artists often model possible futures. Taking full advantage of creative liberty, they can conjure a wider range of speculative realities and posit alternative ways of responding to environmental change.
The exhibition “Between Bodies,” currently on view at the Henry Art Gallery, does just that, using multimedia, multisensory works of art to immerse us in discomfiting, sensuously beautiful encounters with other bodies — humans, animals, microorganisms, bodies of water, even bodies of knowledge.
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There are mirrors, vibrations, scents, textiles, video, audio, suggestions for sci-fi reading, and augmented reality. At almost every turn we are invited into — or confronted by — installations that make us aware of ourselves in relationship to the art and spaces around us.
Many of the eight artists in “Between Bodies” use their experiences as members of LGBTQ communities to question fixed positions of identity and authority, and to suggest inclusive, fluid perspectives.
Artists Abraham Avnisan and micha cárdenas drew on their respective backgrounds in computer programming and augmented-reality game design to create a visual and auditory installation called “Sin Sol, Forest Memory.” A ghostly, pixelated, data-scanned forest is projected onto three walls of a gallery. We are immediately absorbed by the flickering light and hazy landscape, but can interact even further by picking up iPads to explore augmented-reality scenes. In these narratives, we are guided by two avatars — a wolf and a transgender woman — who seem to speak from a future world marked by forest fires and air pollution.
In the heart of the exhibition, Carolina Caycedo’s kaleidoscopic textiles hang and swoop from the high ceiling, sometimes spilling onto the floor. At first, we sense fluid movement and rhythmic beauty in the imagery and forms, but we may not realize these are, what she calls, “Water Portraits.” On lengths of fabric often over 30 feet tall, Caycedo photographically layers images of rivers and waterscapes. According to her artist statement, she asks us to view “bodies of water as living entities, and as active political agents in environmental conflicts.” Here, in this quietly grand space, we can reconsider how we perceive natural forces.
Caitlin Berrigan, a professor of emerging media at NYU Tisch Photography & Imaging, fills two galleries with video, 3D computational photographs, sculptural installations, poetry and intensive geological research. The varied experiences don’t add up to a simplistic warning about the environment. Instead, we sense vulnerable and violent connections between stories about topological and sexual trauma.
“Between Bodies” seems to use ambiguity strategically, asking us to consider the natural world through different lenses.
Of course, artists have grappled with environmental concerns for centuries, using strategies that range from illustrative documentation — as with the 19th-century wildlife artist John James Audubon — to the vast range of media deployed by today’s artists. These are the last few days to catch two other local exhibitions in which artists address environmental issues.
In Bellingham, the exhibition “Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity” at the Whatcom Museum brings together work by 60 artists to explore issues of conservation, fragility and threat. A portion of the roster is made up of past artists (like Audubon) while the majority is very much contemporary, filled with artists who use history-minded painting and photography and those who employ symbol-laden materials, as in Fred Tomaselli’s panels with leaves and pills and Nicholas Galanin’s installation of wolf pelts and felt.
The exhibition “Surge 2018” in La Conner also tackles environmental issues, but with a more specifically Northwest focus. This group show, developed in tandem with environmental researchers and educators, and hosted by the Museum of Northwest Art and the Skagit Climate Science Consortium (SC2), brings together 24 contemporary artists who explore new perspectives on climate change and its impact on our coastal communities.
Of these three current Northwest exhibitions, “Between Bodies” is the most prognosticating, combining careful research, innovative media and artistic imagining to envision new realities and new ways of interacting with the world.
In a time of near catastrophic ecological change, we can — and should — read scientific reports and clear suggestions for solutions. Additionally, we can — and should — consider how art evokes alternative emotional, physical and intellectual responses to global issues.
“Between Bodies,” 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays; through April 28; Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, 15th Ave. N.E. and N.E. 41st St., Seattle; 206-543-2280, henryart.org
“Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity,” noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, through Jan. 6; Whatcom Museum, Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St., Bellingham; 360-778-8930, whatcommuseum.org
“Surge 2018,” noon-5 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Jan. 6; Museum of Northwest Art, 121 S. First St., La Conner; 360-466-4446, monamuseum.org