Terra Forme – Geomorphology, Deep Time, and Indigenous Beliefs

Curated by Dr. Kōan Jeff Baysa

Featured Artists: Halldór Ásgeirsson, Heimir Björgúlfsson, Solomon Enos, Leslie Gleim, Hamilton Kobayashi, Mucyo, Michelle Schwengel-Regala, Arngunnur Ýr. Dedicated to the memories of Hawai’i painter Hamilton Kobayashi and French geologist Jean Francheteau. Exhibition Venue: East Hawai’i Cultural Center, Hilo, Hawai’i Island, Hawai’i, USA. https://ehcc.org/content/terra-forme

Installations by Mucyo (Rwanda) and Ásgeirsson (Iceland) using lava sourced from their respective countries. In Hawai’i, lava is considered sacred property of the volcano goddess Pele, who delivers swift retribution to those who dare to remove pieces from Hawai'i
Installations by Mucyo (Rwanda) and Ásgeirsson (Iceland) using lava sourced from their respective countries. In Hawai’i, lava is considered sacred property of the volcano goddess Pele, who delivers swift retribution to those who dare to remove pieces from Hawai’i

Terra Forme regards the Earth as a vast, diverse, and dynamically evolving entity. Adapted from the science fiction term: terraforming, the exhibition title describes the long-term transformation of an alien environment to support human life. Kīlauea volcano has added nearly 900 acres of new landmass to Hawai’i Island, but it is only in deep time, geologic time of 25,000 years, that the area will develop into a full and viable ecosystem.

In 2021, the curator flew to view dramatic volcanic eruptions in two disparate global locations: Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland and Kīlauea, the youngest and most active Hawaiian shield volcano located on Hawai’i Island, the largest in the island chain. He was further fascinated by volcanoes that lay beneath different forms of water: Öræfajökull in Iceland threatening massive floods and widespread destruction when its superheated magma violently meets its glacier cap; and the rising seamount, Kamaʻehuakanaloa, that is predicted to break the ocean surface in a conservative estimate of 50,000 more years to become Hawaii’s youngest island. 

Foreground: Schwengel-Regala (Hawai'i); Background: Mucyo (Rwanda)
Foreground: Schwengel-Regala (Hawai’i); Background: Mucyo (Rwanda)

A gathering of volcano-inspired artworks by artists from Iceland, Hawai’i, and Africa, Terra Forme embraces concepts of geomorphology, deep time, and indigenous beliefs. The paintings by Honolulu-based Hamilton Kobayashi capture the fiery energy and palpable heat of Kilauea’s eruptions. The spectacularly detailed photographic images by Honolulu-based photographer Leslie Gleim taken from a helicopter flying over active lava flows contrast with those of older lava fields rejuvenated by new growths of ferns and ‘ohi’a lehua trees. The paintings by LA-based Icelandic artist Heimir Björgúlfsson portray resilient winged inhabitants that return to and adapt to the new environs of   Kilauea’s post-eruption caldera: a koa’e kea (white-tailed tropicbird), pueo (owl), and pulelehua (Kamehameha butterfly). 

The concept of new land through terraforming is taken to fantastical heights with the work of Honolulu-based native Hawaiian Solomon Enos and Icelandic artist Arngunnur Ýr. Enos presents a strikingly different vision of new landscapes with flying islands suspended aloft and trailing clouds. Ýr’s triptychs, each linked by a continuous horizon line, are unified panoramic combinations of geographically disparate locations in Iceland, Oregon, and Hawai’i where she has visited or resided.

L to R: Bjorgulfsson (Los Angeles), Yr (Iceland), Mucyo (Rwanda), Gleim (Hawai'i)
L to R: Bjorgulfsson (Los Angeles), Ýr (Iceland), Mucyo (Rwanda), Gleim (Hawai’i)

A lava lake is a rare characteristic of volcanoes and three artists including Hamilton Kobayashi depict it in their artworks. The Rwanda-based artist Mucyo presents a bleach process painting referencing the world’s largest permanent lava lake: Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near its border with Rwanda. The lava lake in the inner summit crater of Mount Erebus, the highest active volcano in Antarctica, has been present for the last fifty years. Based on her visit there, Honolulu-based artist Michelle Schwengel-Regala created a twisted sculptural abstraction made of multihued anodized aluminum evoking a crater and its rim above which are suspended dangerous lava bombs of the same material that are in real life violently ejected by volcanic eruptions. Iceland-based Halldor Ásgeirsson also presents abstracted works with an entire wall mounted with small colored works on paper that represent elves freed from the lava stones that held them captive until released by a torch wielded by the artist.

Images: Solomon Enos (Hawai'i)
Images: Solomon Enos (Hawai’i)

Volcanic activities act as potent agents of change not only of topography, but they shape thinking as well. Eruptions have often been interpreted by indigenous communities as the results of godly displeasures. In two separate paintings, the artist Mucyo depicts the Congo-Rwanda sibling volcano goddesses Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira from Africa’s Rift Valley. Eruptions occur when the younger sister Nyamuragira attempts to assuage her older sibling’s discontent. A world away, the artist Enos offers a monochromatic fractionated figure that incorporates the Polynesian volcano goddess Pele (Pere in Tahiti) whose vigorous arguments with her sister Nāmakaokaha’i, a powerful ocean deity, are manifested through active lava flows.

Images: Gleim (Hawai'i), Kobayashi (Hawai'i), Mucyo (Rwanda), Enos (Hawai'i)
Images: Gleim (Hawai’i), Kobayashi (Hawai’i), Mucyo (Rwanda), Enos (Hawai’i)

Both installations by Ásgeirsson and Mucyo incorporate volcanic material sourced from their countries, Iceland and Rwanda respectively. Ásgeirsson arranges volcanic glass droplets in a widening spiral that originates with a large lava piece brought from a recent Icelandic eruption. Mucyo’s installation begins with a wall-mounted painting of Nyiragongo that flows onto the floor with scattered pieces of Rwandan mica and feathering trails of black sand. Accompanying this is a live recording of female elders recounting volcano mythologies in Lingala, their native tongue.

The works created by the artists of Terra Forme help us to appreciate powerful natural phenomena that fall outside the boundaries of human lifetimes, experiences, and beliefs, prompting us to reflect about time on this planet, its care, and our place in the cosmos.

K8N Collective and the Geography of Scale

by Steve Rockwell

K8N Collective installation view
K8N Collective installation view at Gallery 1313, Toronto

The use of planes, trains, and automobiles are required to get to the place where this article might take us. The cultural product being shipped has triangulation points between New York, Toronto, and the town of Belleville, Ontario. Its cargo designation comes under late minimalism, set in motion here by the Bellville artist collective K8N, and arriving at their Gallery 1313 exhibition in Toronto last November, in all likelihood by automobile. Belleville exhibitors Steve Armstrong and Elizabeth Fearon were were joined by the third K8N member Toronto artist Rupen, to produce a thoughtful, cohesive show.

The divergent aesthetic concerns of Armstrong and Rupen, displayed on the walls of the gallery, knit nicely together into a “body of work” helped by Fearon’s six stone sculptures on plinths, which cleaved the show space like the vertebrae of a spinal column. A self-evident human scale gave primacy to the hand of the artist, the burden of meaning falling on the materials employed and their craft.

Richard Serra, Tilted Spheres, 2004, steel, 4.35 x 13.86 12.11 meters overall. Courtest Richard Serra and Pearson International Airport
Richard Serra, Tilted Spheres, 2004, steel, 4.35 x 13.86 12.11 meters overall. Courtesy of Richard Serra and Toronto Pearson International Airport

Some time after beginning my deliberations on the K8N exhibition, I boarded a jet for a winter holiday. To get to the gate at Toronto Pearson International Airport required me (or rather I chose) to walk through Richard Serra’s “Tilted Spheres.” Having previously looked “at” a work of art, I was compelled here to reconcile being a observer “within” a work. Serra’s massive steel forms were carted from New York, where Richard Serra is based. Toronto has a large art scene by Canadian standards, but New York’s is large globally. By this token, Belleville has no art scene to speak of. My own journey in art matches this hop from small to large, with the international ethos a shifting point of reference.

Rupen, Rebounding Energy, 2020, architectural paint on primed MDF, 45” X 45’
Rupen, Rebounding Energy, 2020, architectural paint on primed MDF, 45” X 45’

This fabric of geographic connectivity is the soil out of which much of the art which is presented to us grows. In 2004 Rupen exhibited a series of wall works in wood, beige panels with networks of red lines inspired by railway tracks leading in and out of “the great art cities,” such as New York and Paris. My first exposure to the K8N collective was at Rupen’s show space and home in the Junction district of Toronto in 2019, very nearly where its four lines of track intersect. The K8N name itself is the postal code designation for Belleville. The environment and how the body situates itself within it, has a part in the making of Rupen’s art, who employs a process of distillation that includes a subtle playback loop with each creative adjustment. Rupen views the body as the recipient of life-affirming energy, that is released in the making of each work.

Elizabeth Fearon, Untitled 1, alabaster, 8” x 6 ¼”v x 6 ¼”
Elizabeth Fearon, Untitled 1, alabaster, 8” x 6 ¼”v x 6 ¼”

Fearon’s 1997-03 photo-booth work explored the movement of face and body, having led the artist to considerations of the framed capture of an individual in “official” uses such as passport photos and other licensing protocols. Isolated frame demarcations that form grids apply not only to our immediate urban environment but engulfs the entire globe ultimately. Information networks structure the flow our personal data electronically much the same as air, sea, and land transport does physical counterparts, both synched to their respective red and green lights. These considerations situate the patiently filed facets of Fearon’s stone sculptures within a dynamically alive environment, while the objects themselves evoke a stillness. Each surface performs a sublimation, condensing and purifying all that it absorbs as the work progresses.

Steve Armstrong, untitled, acrylic on plywood, 13.5″ x 15.5″

Surface ambiguity has been an abiding interest to Armstrong, much of his work designed to read as second and third dimensions simultaneously. This playfulness is welcomed in art, but not so much on subway platforms, elevator shafts, and edges of cliffs. Getting the gestalt of what we see around us is obviously important to our survival. Distinguishing the illusionary in our art may serve as helpful training wheels for the real world. We also accept Armstrong’s sly sophistry that drilling a hole in an object doesn’t yield an interior, only more surface. Worms, on the other hand, understand that boring through the skin of an apple doesn’t yield yet more skin, but pulp, something materially different from the apple’s surface. This focus of Armstrong’s art on the nuances of visual perception and the language that we employ to describe it, packs our daily “spectacles” into the retinal arena of our eye – a kind of microscopic Roman coliseum.

The funnel of all fabrication from the hand-manipulated to the mandibles of an industrial-sized forge, channel our compressed experiences through the wires of a common neural network. Viewer and artist tap into the same channels. The twelve meter steel walls of Serra’s “Tilted Spheres” at Pearson Airport close in over heads, and we experience its potential crush in our gut. It makes palpable the cabin pressure in the hull of the jet that we don’t feel, but know is there. The congestion of an urban grid, and its electronic counterpart carries its own crush, which Feoron somehow eases with the honing of her alabaster facets. The filing of the stone subtracts to reveal its material beauty. In the ordering and reordering of the folding ribbon of planes in his “Rebounding Energy” Rupen plays the scales of line and plane to elicit “sound” from a mute form. The fundamental question that Armstrong raises is, “What can I come to know about the object that I see, if what I sense from it is a contradiction?” Whatever the scale and scope of the object in our vista, the neural bandwidth that equips us all is essentially the same.

Shirin Neshat: The Land of Dreams at MOCA in Toronto

by Steve Rockwell

Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, 2019, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London
Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, 2019, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London

Shirin Neshat has super-powers, not unlike those of the DC Comics super hero who fell to earth in a rocket launched from the ill-fated planet Krypton. Like Jor-El, the father in the Superman story, Shirin’s father “saved” his seventeen-year-old daughter by catapulting her to America from the failing regime of the Shah of Iran before it imploded. With the Ayatollah Khomeini subsequently in power, everything changed for Neshat. Cut off from her family and roots, she was made an alien in a strange land.

The changes that Neshat observed of Iran’s political and religious upheaval upon her return in 1990, were both “shocking and exciting.” This new ideology had transformed the country’s culture in both appearance and habit. Her 1993-97 series “Women of Allah” gave expression to the inherent militancy that had infused Iran’s Islamic fundamentalism. This work signified the breaking of the dam of emotion built up from childhood of an inner dichotomy between her non-religious upbringing amid a conservatively religious Iranian town. She recalls having had tea in her garden as a child, and bursting into tears at the sound of quranic chanting.

Shirin Neshat, Rapture, 1999, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
Shirin Neshat, Rapture, 1999, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris 

“Women of Allah,” infused Neshat’s work with a power that generated immediate success. At the same time the artist faced a flood of criticism from many sides. To the Islamic Republic it was anti-revolutionary, while the people of Iran thought it supported the revolution. Western critics felt it sensationalized violence, and took advantage of the controversy surrounding Islam. Feeling misunderstood, “Women of Allah” became a turning point for Neshat. It began her journey from an overtly political or religious art to the mythic and allegorical. While retaining its Iranian themes, “The Land of Dreams” exhibition signifies a completion of the transformation of Neshat into an American artist, reflecting her own displacement with those of other cultural minorities and disenfranchised at the country’s margins.

Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, 2019, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London
Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, 2019, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London

“Shiprock,” mountain in New Mexico was selected as the mythic site for “The Colony,” while the actual filming of the inhabitants took place in a power plant. The crew had been scouting for a dark, claustrophobic setting for the paper-pushing bureaucrats, but were delighted with the atomic bomb-facility ambiance of the power plant. Here, rows of lab-coated dream catchers could quietly go about their business of cataloguing and analyzing the dreams of the residents of a nearby town. It took a week to cast and photograph the actual 200 New Mexico residents from which the photo-based component of “Land of Dreams” were drawn.

Shirin Neshat, Portrait detail from Land of Dreams series, 2019, Digital c-print with ink and acrylic paint. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London
Shirin Neshat, Portrait detail from Land of Dreams series, 2019, Digital c-print with ink and acrylic paint. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London

Sheila Vand plays the part of a photographer who plumbs the dream world of the town’s people at the behest of the Iranian authority figure that leads The Colony. In a scene set in a darkroom we see her reflection meld with the face of her subject as it materializes in the bath of the developing tray. Vand’s character has entered the dream of another – a violation that carries with it the punishment of an inevitable loss of identity and the pronouncement: “The dream catcher will go mad.”

Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, 2019, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London
Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, 2019, video still. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London

The “Land of Dreams” project was conceived as Neshat’s response to the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal that came with the transition of US administrations. Trump’s tenure had immediately ramped up hostilities and tension with Iran. The artist felt that “something had to be done.” The shadow of something falling over the world stage with which Neshat is only too familiar has crept in like a fog. Now her dichotomy of alienation is being played out in the country of her adoption, with the scale of the stakes much higher.

If the channelling of the quranic chant of a Muslim woman multiplied a thousandfold lent Neshat an expressive super-power some 30 years ago, how will this energy bottled as myth and allegory play out in America’s vast “Land of Dreams?” As the political pillars of power are being shaken globally, should the chord of polarization snap, it might be good to know where some of that kryptonite is likely to land.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (MOCA) Shirin Neshat exhibition runs through to July 31, 2022

The Impenetrable in Art

by Steve Rockwell

Pat McDermott, You see it, 2022, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15.5 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 39.4 x 4.4 cm)
Pat McDermott, You see it, 2022, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15.5 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 39.4 x 4.4 cm)

At the artist talk for his “You see it” exhibition at the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto, Pat McDermott emphasized the direct experience of his work as a key to unlocking its import. The artist avoided references to contemporary art criticism, but elaborated on the Lascaux cave art as his primer. Although interpretations of pre-historic cave art will likely be subject to our own prejudices, there is a belief that ritualistic trance-dancing may have been part of this early art, shamanistic rituals inducing visions. Cambridge professor of classical art and archeology, Nigel Spivey, points out that the dot and lattice patterns overlapping the representational images of animals resemble the hallucinations induced by sensory-deprivation. Regardless, we can infer that the Lascaux artist communicated to the cave community directly and powerfully, to the extent that their lives somehow depended on the reception of its message.

Pat McDermott, I beseech you, 2021, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 38.1 x 4.4 cm)
Pat McDermott, I beseech you, 2021, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 38.1 x 4.4 cm)
Kazuo Nakamura, Rectangle Series, 1988, drawing
Kazuo Nakamura, Rectangle Series, 1988, drawing

McDermott’s approach to his art carries this sense of the essential, a life-long journey to the “core” of our being, which he maintains is “untouchable” and “unreachable.” This drive for answers to primal meaning in art brought to mind the work of Kazuo Nakamura, particularly to an exhibition from nearly two decades ago at the Cutts Gallery. In a review of the artist’s work, writer Gary Michael Dault characterized the almost monastic fervour of Nakamura’s painterly researches as being the result of a steadfast conviction that “There’s a sort of fundamental pattern in all art and nature… in a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is a world we are experiencing together.” Nakamura’s 1983 oil on linen “Number Structure and Fractals” can be viewed as the graphic depiction of the life of numbers, each organism containing the seed of its own being. By 1980, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot had produced high quality visualizations of sets of complex numbers while working at an IBM research center, fulfilling Nakamura’s 1956 vision of artists and scientists working in tandem.

Kazuo Nakamura, Number Structures and Fractals, 1983, oil on linen, 71 x 101.7 cm
Kazuo Nakamura, Number Structures and Fractals, 1983, oil on linen, 71 x 101.7 cm

Perhaps this drive to the core of our being has no better illustration than the Renaissance itself, set in motion by Filippo Brunelleschi’s engineering miracle, the Florence Cathedral, his invention of perspective being a product. Inspired by Roman architect and engineer, Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” drawing blended mathematics and art, demonstrating the harmony of human proportion, centering the point of perspective, here, at the naval. Clearly more than a presentation of male anatomy was intended. Leonardo believed that the workings of the body was an analogy for the workings of the entire universe – a cosmografia del minor mondo. To the Renaissance polymath, this knitting together of the lines of sight was a miracle: ”Here forms, here colors, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is a marvellous thing.” For a shining moment, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and science found its expression through art, producing some of the greatest creative minds of all time.

Guiseppe Morano, Watch: Time: Fly, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 96”
Guiseppe Morano, Watch: Time: Fly, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 96”

Present at McDermott’s talk was interdisciplinary artist Giuseppe Morano, to whom I owe a bit of gratitude for linking and contrasting Nakamura’s art with McDermott’s. I had become acquainted with Morano’s art at the Artist Project a few years ago, his work being singularly based in numbers and mathematics, primarily a digital printing of black numbers on white primed canvas. At the exhibition Morano’s homage to Vincent van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows” the artist precisely mimicked the wing position with each crow in Van Gogh’s painting with the hands of a clock, and printing the exact time that the wing alignments signify. As I said of the work at that time, “If Wheatfield with Crows” was indeed van Gogh’s last painting, we can picture the crows taking flight at the sound of the fatal gunshot.” Morano had converted the crows into time stamps, serving here as winged metaphors for the series of events leading up to the tragedy. His “Happy Birthday: You’re so special” work is aesthetically neutral to its implied subject, until we recognize that the 366 sets of numbers printed randomly in columns signify the birthdays of every person who has ever lived. Your joy or disappointment at his gift to you may depend on whose birthday you were fated to be near, at least as how they were dispensed in Morano’s numerical universe.

Guiseppe Morano, Happy Birthday: You're so special, 2018, 72" x 36", acrylic on canvas
Guiseppe Morano, Happy Birthday: You’re so special, 2018, 72″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas

McDermott’s “You see it” exhibition is an invitation to penetrate the “unreachable” and “untouchable.” With few exceptions, the titles of the artist’s work emphatically address “You.” A solitary work begins in the first person: “I beseech you.” Yet, how much of the objective world can be inferred from any given work of art? If 605 of the more than 900 animals depicted by the Lascaux cave artists can be precisely identified today, then their art is hardly delirious phantasmagoria – rather an accurate encyclopedic cataloguing of the biosphere upon which their lives depended. 

Presented here is a fragment of the see-saw of art history – the visual style of the moment being a sum of the artist’s thoughts, set against the nourishment of insight and aesthetic meat upon which the viewer is invited to feed. “You see it?”

The Artificial Beauty of Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River

by Mary Hrbacek

Bubble wrap no.23 (Mermaid), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60x34 in. frame 66x40 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.23 (Mermaid), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60×34 in. frame 66×40 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

 The newly reopened Paris Koh Fine Arts presents, “artificial. Beauty: Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River,” an exhibition of six new (2021) large scale archival pigment prints and six smaller gelatin silver prints. The large daring staged images are startling and fresh, evocative and dynamic. River’s nature-inspired vision is augmented with colored bubble wrap, repurposed to replicate the leaves of trees and to function as the scales and fins of a male merman and female mermaid.  He configures dancers from the New York City ballet, as he explores experimental artificial environments by positioning the volunteer nude models in composite relationships with the reimagined plastic substance of bubble wrap. River plays out mythological themes of transformation into human Bonsai trees; human-fish and jellyfish morph into forms with extended meaning and potential.  Bubble wrap, a signature material in River’s creative vocabulary, adds a heightened emotional charge to the imaginative scenarios that stir in some works euphoric feelings of flowing freedom to be found in the movements of ocean-going creatures. These creatures are perhaps the next step in human evolution, as the Earth’s surface becomes increasingly uninhabitable. The freely floating pieces of bubble wrap, functioning as algae or other sea organisms, evoke the weightlessness of forms that thrive in the wind or in water.  

Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The extreme realism of the figures, made possible exclusively by the camera, creates a marked shift in vision and contrast in feeling compared with the artificial material. The hybrid combination pushes the boundaries of imagination to the limits of belief by asking the viewer to consider two distinctive means of image-making that are especially provocative in the Bonsai pieces. The human elements of the Bonsai group diverge from the realm of evocative reality into a fully blown rendition of female anatomy. This effect overtakes the natural suggestiveness of the bio-forms. The bright supporting colors of the backgrounds and the tree “leaves” transport the works into a heightened non-naturalistic environment that speaks to an unconscious need for reverie and celebration by rejoicing in life’s ever changing vocabulary of experiences.  

Bubble wrap no.25 (Merman), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60x34 in. frame 66x40 in. Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.25 (Merman), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60×34 in. frame 66×40 in. Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The male and female underwater fish figures that glide through the depths with tail fins and tendrils swirling behind, provide a lush sense of the buoyant ephemeral character of underwater existence.  Nothing is static or rigidly fixed; every aspect of deep-sea life as seen in the photographs moves and undulates perpetually, beckoning us to escape our inflexibility and rejoice in life. The “Bubble wrap no. 21 (Jellyfish)” piece entices the viewer to realize the nature of the Id which can cause us pleasure and pain with its insistent desire and consequent burning sting. The warm enveloping range of light and dark red-orange tones in the “Bubble wrap no. 23 (Mermaid)” photograph stirs a sense of both water and fire, while the deep blue hues of the “Bubble wrap no. 25 (Merman)” expand our consciousness by presenting cool realms where a freshly created being, the Merman, dominates. “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” presents a trio of naked men grouped crouching on a mountain peak, where ominous clouds hover overhead.  The men express their ascendency by relating to each other with outstretched arms, having conquered their worldly challenges.  

Bubble wrap no.21 (jellyfish), 2021. (Behind the scenes series). Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.21 (jellyfish), 2021. (Behind the scenes series). Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The “Behind the scenes” series of 10” x 10” (frame 15” x 15”) gelatin silver prints gives the viewer insights into River’s creative working process by providing varying possibilities that add to the richness of the final visions, as seen in the large pieces. Here the Merman and Mermaid photographs have lights that suggest planets in the darkened “sky,” to provide a cosmic or otherworldly dimension to these new forms. The three male figures in “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” seem to be resting from a difficult struggle, contemplating their current position.  The standing figure appears to be the chief in charge (River himself) who makes the fatal decisions.

These pictures are strange and beguiling; River has created unique narratives that touch the realm of fairytales peopled with creatures who may initially alarm us, but who ultimately stir our awe, empathy, and curiosity.  He works intuitively, allowing the exploration process to spark his engagement, providing unconscious ideas and relationships that augment each other. River takes photographs before he assigns theoretical underpinnings to his endeavors.  He focuses on what is unfolding in the “now,” moment by moment. This extreme commitment infuses the hybrid works with authenticity; the imagery may initially seem contradictory as the nude body reveals all its forms in contrast with the abstracted structures of the re-purposed bubble wrap, transformed into tree leaves, clouds, fish scales and flying or floating ephemera. By creating these diverse means of expression River takes the photographic genre into a more creative arena using wire, a flashlight and bubble wrap to augment the lush beauty of the nude figures. The artist considers the series “bizarre yet fun,” but it goes further than fun, it introduces the viewer to a surprising universe of visual ideas in artificial scenes that open unexpected doors to future explorations. These ideas have acquired their own ingenious reality.