Where there’s water, there’s life! Explore the essence, the presence and the power of water in a multimedia exhibition PLUNGE explorations from above & below at the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! through October 8, 2017.
Water is essential for life, a marvelous habitat, a vehicle for ships, a setting for epic literature, and the subject of scientific research. It covers 70% of the earth’s surface, 96% of which is ocean. One of the greatest gifts of nature, water is a powerful element engaging sixteen local, regional and international artists brought together by Rhonda Brown and Tom Grotta of browngrotta arts of Connecticut and NBAM/AW! Curator Jamie Uretsky.
LONG LINES by Annette Bellamy (2010) is a collection of nearly 100 ceramic fish hooks, suspended on 10-foot lengths of twine. Standing beneath a skylight, it’s easy to imagine being part of an underwater view. A single fish hook is familiar; however, it’s disturbing to see a dense cluster. Is the artist questioning fishing quotas, industrial fishing and the sustainability of species?
Adjacent platforms are habitats for fantastic creatures on the ocean floor.
Karyl Sisson recycles undervalued, overlooked sewing supplies (formerly called ‘notions’) to explore patterns in organic growth. Made of vintage zipper tapes, REACHING OUT (2013) resembles an octopus and GROWTH II (2004) could be an ancient coral. Will these creatures be forgotten like the notions they’re made of ?
A variety of multimedia boats and ships transport visitors to the surface of water.
Imaginary boats by Jane Balsgaard could easily be the subject of folk tales and myths. Delicate canoes and sailboats of willow, handmade paper and translucent glass seem ready to navigate water or the sky. (BARKBADEN, 2008-2009; GLASS BOAT, 2015; TINY BOAT, 2010)
The largest boats appear on Helena Hernmarck’s tapestry NEW YORK BAY 1884 (1990) that is 10’ x 13.5’. Handsomely hand-woven with custom-dyed yarns, the artist interprets a realistic and romantic image featuring 19th century boats under sail. You can almost feel the wind blow!
In dramatic contrast are the tar paintings of local artist Christopher Volpe. The series LOOMINGS (2016-2017), a title borrowed from the novel Moby Dick, presents 19th century whaling ships as atmospheric ghostly images. The limited palette ranges from metallic black to diluted sepia. The artist chose tar as a link to 150 years of industrialization driven by whale oil and petroleum (oil). New Bedford was a major port for whaling ships.
WHAT LIES BENEATH/MOBY DICK BOOK (2016) by Lawrence LaBianca combines a copy of Moby Dick in a water-proof case with a photograph of the case tethered to a rock underwater. Since its publication over 150 years ago, each generation has responded with a new interpretation of this epic novel. Today critical analysis has shifted from Ahab and Ishmael to conservation of the oceans and sea life.
A second artwork by LaBianca is SEA FLOAT PROJECT (2014-2016), a mixed media installation with an 8-foot dinghy, sea buoy, copper etching plates, large ball bearing and framed prints. He repeatedly launched the sea buoy whose copper plate was etched by the ball bearing’s rolling and turning across it in response to the waves moving and tossing the buoy. The prints pulled from the etched plates are a visual record of a place over a twenty-four hour period, a physical memory.
FISH SCALE (2012) by Marian Bijlenga is a fragile wall-hung net of dyed fish scales with a secondary net of shadows. Is this an enlarged web of microscopic life? More than a reference to ‘scale’ as a boney plate of fish skin, the title conjures ‘scale’ as relative measurement and our ability to appreciate the smallest elements of aquatic life.
Wonderfully appealing is Anne Leone’s oversize painting CENOTE AZUL #26 which captures the magic and pleasures of buoyant family members. Nearly life-size figures tread water in amusing poses unattainable on land. Distorted colorful reflections of faces and swimsuits spread across the water’s surface. This view is a wonderful fantasy only available from beneath the water’s surface.
Finally, a quiet yet spectacular relief is CALCULUS (2010) by British artist Sue Lawty. A large wall-mounted white panel (2 x 3 meters; 6.5’ x 9.8’) supports thousands of dots that are actually tiny stones smoothed by the sea and sorted into a “beautifully choreographed march past the ignored.” Lawty has elevated the universal practice of beach combing. A caption in the excellent catalog explains: “Calculus is the Latin word for small stone as well as the name of a branch of mathematics based, like Lawty’s work, on the sum of infinitesimal differences.”
Other artists in the exhibition are Dona Anderson, Birgit Birkkjaer, Chris Drury, Heather Hobler, Judy Mulford, Ula-Majia Vikman, and Grethe Wittrock.
To immerse yourself in more historic and contemporary nautical stories, follow the calls of seagulls to the New Bedford Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill and the Fishing Heritage Center. For views of the harbor and Buzzard’s Bay, visit the museum’s observation deck, or follow the Harbor Walk to Fort Taber Park.
Much gratitude to Catherine Hunter, Independent Museum Consultant, who contributed this review.
Visit BrownGrotta Gallery to purchase a catalog for Plunge.
Also, note that BrownGrotta recently celebrated its 40th anniversary of supporting fiber artists. The accompanying catalog to the anniversary show can be purchased here.
*Featured image artwork: Birgit Birkjaaer, Nordic Gold Comes From The Sea,2016, Linen, amber, plexi