Exhibition Review: Where Water Comes Together
By Isabella Weiss
All of the featured artists in the Rhode Island School of Design’s graduate show at ClampArt share in their work a concern for the present tense of the body. They question how identity links to place as place becomes an abstraction and identity becomes a platform. These emerging artists are the first constituents of the Post-Millennial generation (also known as “Generation Z”) to reach professional maturity. Their proclivities are the product of contemporary culture and their preferences and concerns contain evidence for the state of the emerging era in art.
Margaret Kristensen’s work in this exhibition reveals the presence of the human form in natural contexts and objects. In doing so, Kristensen demonstrates the incongruity between the origin of the human form and its current evolutionary state. She stages scenes of comparison in which a nude human figure takes a hidden pose within forms that resemble its own. Paradoxically, the subject’s body initially camouflages into this environment, but when it is discovered, it seems foreign, out of place, its suppleness appears unnatural amidst barren fields of stone and thorns. The human body in these images appears to be a foreign representation within a natural context while this body is the context of a foreign representation as well: a tattoo of thorned flora is scarred into her pale flesh. Although the soft, unweathered body of contemporary American society no longer appears to “belong” in natural environments, Kristensen’s project reveals formal patterns between this space and its inhabitant.
Condensation is proof of presence, and specifically of the respiration process that indicates the presence of life. In Alex Gencarelli’s short film Untitled (Breath), a glass screen muddles the artist’s image. Her face is obscured by the breath it produces in desperation as she attempts to make her existence known through proof of its effect. The glass screen is the pen and paper of our generation, and yet glass as a communicatory device is compromised by human presence. The oil of our fingers, the condensation of our sweat and breath visually inhibit a person’s connection with his/her community. For this reason, an attempt to prove one's existence within this medium is to fog it. The more this platform is used as a means of communication, the more inhibited communication becomes. I read Gencarelli’s piece as a warning against the language-limiting effects of digitally mediated communication and community.
By displaying the last images posted by individuals before their deaths, Tianqiutao Chen shows us in his installation The Last Post the extent to which images encompass the state of a life as well as auger its future states. Only in an image-obsessed, image-dominated world would the life and death of individuals appear to be rooted in them. The scenes in these images are mostly dark, their inhabitants close their eyes, lean against one another, lie limp before the photographic gaze of their companions. Many are subtly violent: a fish hook through skin, a bloodshot eye against a filter-amplified blue iris, a young boy expertly aiming a pistol. When they are not violent, they are eerily contemplative: ghostly light distortions in a dark room, a curtain hung awkwardly, as if poised in expectation, before a sliver of external glow, and the reflection of a face upon the beautiful, cold environment it spectates in passing. These are the “last posts” of individuals unaware of their impending deaths. Chen’s project forces us to question to what extent the power of images goes beyond the representable. To what extent do they define our futures and lives, and not just represent them?
Where and how does the contemporary human exist---physically or imagistically, actually or representationally? The young artists in RISD’s graduating class pose this question, and this is no surprise. Generation Z is the first generation to be born directly into internet and social media culture, the first to know no other existence than that which is split between two realms and their corresponding modes of physicality.