Friday, September 21, 2007

First Look - "Infinite Island"

The Infinite Island publicity image is of “El Dorado.” It’s prickly – not a stereotypical sunset or dreadlocks, thank goodness, but not especially inviting either.

Thankfully, much of the art shown in the exhibit (up through January 2008), is actually both inviting and powerful. (Seen in person, Locke’s “El Dorado” is visually stunning.) My highlights during a first look were: “Creole Portraits” by Joscelyn Gardner, “T/HERE” by Deborah Jack, Ewan Atkinson’s prints, the film “Under Discussion,” Hew Locke’s “Vita, Veritas, Victory,” and Alex Burke’s “Spirit of the Caribbean.”

The lithographs in Gardner’s “Creole Portraits” brilliantly portray torture devices as hairstyles. The piece references slavery, 19th century portraiture, and beauty cultures in each delicate drawing.

“T/HERE” is a striking installation of color digital prints featuring images of the artist’s face and other parts of her body, as well as extreme close-ups of indoor and outdoor landscapes she has found herself in over the years.

Atkinson’s combination prints and mixed-media are sharp in all the ways a Caribbean person might use the word – they’re smart, funny, and visually arresting. The bottom half of each image consists of pages from old racist and sexist children’s books that the artist has drawn upon. The upper half features a digital print of the artist reimagining the storybook image starring himself – often in a little red dress.

“Under Discussion” by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla begins with the hilarity of a man overturning a large table and attaching a motor to it to create an instant boat. But it quickly becomes darker as the man steers towards the bomb shells and military structures on Vieques, the Puerto Rican island where the US military recently stopped conducting military exercises and experiments.

Locke’s installation of black strung beads is in the shape of the British coat of arms, but features images from other cultures in South America and Africa. The piece is massive. You immediately notice both the intricate details and the menacing color, which hints at the horrors of colonialism.

The 47 dolls in “The Spirit of the Caribbean” are unified in their diversity. Each one has variously colored thread and fabrics wrapped around and stitched into it. The dolls represent the spirits of voudoun as well as those of individual and collective Caribbean people.

Unfortunately, Infinite Island includes one major disaster – the short films by Jamaican Storm Saulter. In “Inna di dance,” the music video maker clearly thinks that slowing down his footage of people dancing makes it art. Really it’s random scenes that manage to dehumanize the dancers by not showing their faces. And by focusing on men and a male perspective – including a scene in which a woman physically fights to push a man off of her – Saulter manages not to show any of the female agency that Jamaican scholar Carolyn Cooper and others have spent years revealing. His other film, “Waterboot,” is silly and poorly shot. Both films come off as not only bad art, but bad taste, the equivalent of terrible art house “Jamaica: No Problem” tourist ads. Maybe that was what the Museum was going for. Thank goodness most of the work in Infinite Island is technically and aesthetically accomplished, and does not deal in rough stereotypes.

Come back; in future postings I’ll write about other Caribbean art exhibits at Rotunda Gallery in downtown Brooklyn and the Skylight Gallery in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In the meantime, check out all of these exhibits yourself:

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