Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington
The eight artists featured in “Between Bodies” take us from the air down to minerals deep in the earth, to untamed rivers, to smoking forests, and finally to the sounds and micro-organisms of the deep sea. They explore metaphors of sexual transformation, intraspecies and trans-species communication, future avatars and present voices. We witness the fragility and destructibility of naturewhile experiencing its power and invisible miracles at the same time. All of these artists care deeply about the dire condition of the planet and seek ways to halt or reverse the violent assaults perpetrated by those in power. They give us imaginary futures based on present catastrophes.
Curated by Nina Bozicnik, “Between Bodies” explored the interface of technology and nature, what she calls “humans and more than humans” and the “legacies of violence” on the planet. Her selected artists work in various media—archive, text, sculpture, video, and virtual reality—as well as across disciplines, including science, art, history, science fiction, poetry, and storytelling.
Hormonal Fog (2016–18) by Candice Lin and Patrick Staff introduced the show. Herbal tinctures (licorice root, hops, black cohosh root, and dong quai root) dispersed by a fog machine filled the air with anti-testosterone herbs capable of calming our aggressive tendencies—one way forward for the planet.
Caitlin Berrigan’s challenging Treatise on Imaginary Explosions, Vol. II. (2016–18) required viewers to give up real time and surrender to its narratives, fragments, and multi-part structure. In the main theme, transgender scientists prematurely trigger simultaneous volcanic eruptions all over the planet. Berrigan links patriarchal extractions from the earth and the rape of the individual body, identifying the eruptions as an opportunity for radical transformation. Installed in two facing spaces, Treatise included a “digital elevation topographical rendering” of Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano in Iceland, juxtaposed with physical objects, including a chunk of mineral on a brass chain, journals, a necklace/talisman suggesting interstellar travel, and several videos. Viewers were also invited to activate an acoustic environment whose seismic vibrations echoed inside the body. Scrolling over a video of a rotating mineral, a poem suggests: “Alliances of friendship outlast and overcome / any force of social or environmental trauma. / First we must find each other. / We must cohere. / In alliance, we move together. / We mineralize.”
In the main gallery, huge prints on canvas from Carolina Caycedo’s “Water Portraits” series (2015–18) hung from ceiling to floor, surrounding the space with kaleidoscopic images of rushing rivers. Caycedo has worked since 2012 on “Be Dammed,” her ongoing project that looks at the impact of dams in Colombia, specifically on the Yuma River (also known as the Magdalena River), where no fewer than 19 corporate dams are planned. She spent months speaking with local indigenous peoples (she has her own roots in the area) about their lives before and after the dams. Her film A Gente Rio (We River) (2016) underscores both the large-scale corporate destruction of lives along the river and intimate details of survival, such as a hand holding tiny crumbs of gold sieved from the water.
Sin Sol, Forest Memory (2018) by micha cárdenas and Abraham Avnisan immersed viewers in a three-walled forest landscape. Hanging in the center of the gallery, iPads offered a conversation between Aura, a virtual reality ancestor from the future, and a present-day person who recites poems about the impact of living in a smoke-filled landscape: “No trees, no horizons all gray. People like me need to stay inside. It’s been weeks,” and “I fear the future of a world on fire, not just smoke but fire might mean more hate.” I found these poems almost desperately sad.
Susanne Winterling’s Glistening Troubles (2017) animates resin replicas of bioluminescent single-cell organisms on individual monitors. We feel underwater with them in a fragile environment that periodically vanishes as the screens go blank. An interview with a fisherman/guide suggests that, historically, these glowing creatures were seen as magical because they made the water glow; today they are valued for their healing properties. Dependent on salt water, they respond to movement both human and natural. Too much fresh water stimulates them to retreat into the depths. Winterling emphasizes communication among these organisms and the natural environment, as well as our ability to disrupt or poison them with toxins.
Finally, Acoustic Ocean (2018), by the internationally renowned ecological artist Ursula Biemann, connected viewers to deep-sea sounds. Ironically first heard as the result of a military project, the sonar communications again refer to interspecies communication, particularly whales. Sofia Jannok, a Sami singer and environmental activist, speaks of the impact of changing climates on her community. She then inserts listening devices into the waters of a desolate Arctic landscape and listens to the sounds of the deep Arctic sea.
“Between Bodies” demanded time to embrace these alternative ways of experiencing the natural world, but it also offered possibilities for a future beyond confrontation and aggression. Taking another deep breath of Hormonal Fog on the way out reinforced that message.