Fluctuating Meridians [Review]
By Claire Bloomfield
Fluctuating Meridians, presented by Stoveworks, opened on February 22 in Chattanooga, TN. As a multi-faceted organization, Stoveworks strives to educate and connect the community while “fostering an environment of exchange and reflection, to provide opportunities to learn from the experience of others.” Fluctuating Meridians does exactly this. It gives artists a platform to start a dialogue within the community. The works of Erika Harrsch, Andrew O’Brien, Pete Hoffecker Mejia, and Cognate Collective (Amy Sanchez Arteaga and Misael Diaz) all begin a conversation around the metaphysical natures of space and its limitations. Each artist shares a unique point of access for the viewer to feel, see, and understand the social and political effects of the territorialization of North America. From conglomerated geometric sculptures, to pictorial celestial photographs, we transverse the minds of these artists, while considering our ongoing process of colonization within our world. As they tell their stories through diverse visual languages, they build new understandings and spark empathy. In this way, the work in Fluctuating Meridians can be seen as an indirect form of activism, opening the minds and hearts of viewers.
Walking into the show, artist statements were printed in both English and Spanish. If you came hungry, your bellies would be delighted to find fresh hot tamales to warm the soul. Your eyes first catch the energetic work of Pete Hoffecker Mejia. Rich with culture, his vibrant sculptures were hung on the wall and placed throughout the gallery floor. His work invited vertical viewing and implied movement. Your eyes move, up and down, right and left, across the geometric stacked mazes. After climbing the blocks of hi-hued woods, your eyes dance around the transparent neon pink panels with song. Lush with green waxy plants, printed fabrics, and chunky white-washed boards, the works fuse culture into an abstract topographical map. It resembles the blending of indigenous Latin American art forms and European geometric abstraction. Pete spoke of the work as an “intersection of contrasting cultural information, hierarchies of representation, and the conflation in the expression of otherness.”
As we move through the gallery we come across the new-media work of the Cognate Collective, Andrew O’Brien, and Erika Harrsch. First, we see The Border Cameo played on a large TV against a wall. This short film was a compiled with video clippings from border crossings. Made from home videos and big-budget movies, we saw realism married to drama. We also begin to question myth, as we see stereotypes in film entangled within the everyday.
From the micro to the macro, we zoom in and out of the work of Andrew O’Brien. Having a rich history in astrological studies, his photographs depict the US-Mexico border through historical map-making techniques and found objects. Andrew is interested in examining the American Southwest and our historical movement of people. Some images were taken at the border at midnight where over 3,000 immigrants have passed from tragic consequences. His photographs alternate between moments of error and precision. By looking at the error of our devices, we can consider how we can overcome the way we look at space and our present ideologies . On a back wall, he gridded images of stars, which were historically the same stars used to map the border itself. While our eyes simultaneously move through free and contrasting defined spaces, as we leap into the un-pioneered as a symbol of freedom.
In a low lit room, we approach Under the Same Sky… We Dream (2017) by Erika Harrsch. Her work evokes a simultaneously alluring and jarring sensation as you are pulled to the center of her installation. Hung in the middle of the room, is a large projection screen cut at the bottom to resemble America’s Southern border. In the video, she sewed together 35,000 photographs of clouds passing above El Paso’s and Juarez’s fence. Like a UV fly trap, you are pulled in the center of the room with sounds and visions. You hear a soft and nurturing singing voice and see a bright blue optimistic sky-scape. Your feelings of sublime freedom are quickly subverted by the internment mattresses and mylar blankets tucked behind the large projection screen. With reality coming to a forefront, you see how the installation is speaking for the children who try to pass over the border and are taken from their parents. Turning in, we notice the lyrics of the video piece are taken directly from The Dream Act, Bill of Congress. It speaks of the rules and regulations of immigrants. As you lay on the inmate mattress behind the sunny projection screen, you feel how freedom is out of reach for many. The viewer is invited to enter the space and examine the books laid out on the mattresses lit by LED lamps. As you flip through the books, you can see the drama, trauma, and sociological effects of the borders within our lands and people. Like being submerged in water, you have a moment to be alone with the work and reflect with a moment of silence for these children and families.
Globally, meridians help us navigate the world, as they give us an understanding of how our world connects. They are man-made etchings over our earth. Like a drawing, they can be metaphorically erased. Yet, these invisible lines within our map systems can hold so much power as they symbolize territory and develop otherness. In Eastern medicine, meridians help us navigate bodies and internal network systems. Yet, in this case, when meridians are blocked, it can cause trauma and strain on the entire body. Is it possible that our bodies and lands are not that different from one another? As we continue to develop maps to foster the creativity of exploration, how can we limit the creation of hostile othering, and lessen our development of false stereotypes that exist among the invisible? As we take a step into something that is unfamiliar, we can remember to keep an open heart and an open mind to strengthen our families and communities.