Alicia Escott at Interface Gallery
by: Abigail Doan
February 13, 2013
As consumers bearing witness to drastic species decline and environmental degradation globally, it is often too difficult to intelligibly process these alarming events as something genuinely connected to the fabric of our day-to-day lives. Thankfully, artist Alicia Escott is navigating a course directly into the complex layers of these concerns with her drawings, sculpture, photographs, video, and text creations. Her solo show at Interface Gallery in Oakland, California – “And the Crowd Had Rushed Together, Trying to Keep Warm”, evokes an empathic ideal and sense of loss that, though tainted with commodification, is something that we are perpetually wrestling with and trying to understand at its core.
Escott presents new works that “both subtly and overtly evoke the unfulfilled utopic visions of the 1960’s and 70′s: the show’s title is actually a line taken directly from a pop song released in 1970. The song, like Escott’s work, alludes to both a hope for its time and a sober awareness of the history of humanity and the force of evolution. Works in this show take a look at consumer culture and the tropes of advertising while ultimately, underscoring a sense of both the fragility and futility of the human condition,” read the gallery’s exhibition statement.
When I went back to listen to Creedence Clearwater’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain” – (the source for the lyrics referenced in the show’s title), other passages like “crowds of mystery falling confusion on the ground” and “good men … trying to find a sun” seemed numbingly poignant after all these decades of soul-searching and environmental activism that have left us bankrupt with rapidly vanishing species, increasingly littered roadsides, phenomena like the the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and even recyclables that we still do not understand how to sort and “dispose of” each week. The big promises seem to have come up short, the daily news makes us feel as if we are perpetually hallucinating, and time as we know it, still rushes on.
Installation view of And the Crowd Had Rushed Together, Trying to Keep Warm….2012/13 (video) and After Koko
2012 (marker on discarded plastic packaging for Sealy Oakcrest mattress) / courtesy of Interface Gallery and artist Alicia Escott
I reached out to Interface Gallery’s director, Suzanne L’Heureux, to learn more about why Alicia Escott’s work might provide both a wake up call as well as a new view into strategies for (eco) art making and ways of better envisioning models that just have not worked to date. Suzanne shared the following:
“Alicia was one of the first artists I reached out to when researching potential artists for the gallery. I am compelled by the richly layered, subtle, and conceptual ways that she engages themes about rapid global change and a collective sense of loss felt as a result of our impact(s) on the natural world. Alicia captures these issues creatively again and again in her work – from her littered drawings to her love letters to extinct animals.
Ecologically minded art can sometimes be quite one-dimensional or didactic, but I feel that Alicia’s work has real depth and ability to evoke empathy. It really captures what I mean in my mission when I say that I am interested in artists who are critically exploring the human relationship to our environment in diverse and engaging ways.
Her practice of drawing on discarded plastic packaging bags (as in After Koko, a piece currently in the show at Interface) is a very immediate way to connect animal life with the impacts of human production. But when Alicia gets inside of her drawings and moves in them, that’s when I feel the layers of meaning really come alive. She enters into relationship with the animal and with the plastic, so that we have this symbolic nexus of relationships between the three. The quiet and the light and the beauty of the natural settings causes us to project our own sense of empathy, longing and loss onto their sad dance. Her videos in the show have such a poetic, evocative quality. ” – S.L.
All the work in this show is poignant on multiple levels, but perhaps in ways that are less about recording loss or documenting the other and more about direct engagement with materials and actions that leave us literally prepared to turn our world inside out. Escott makes a point of creatively repurposing packaging debris and then moves inside our own habits and tendencies to find new dynamics for intimacy with the seemingly mundane and routine. Escott confirmed her waste-free materials strategy with the following comments: “It is important to me that I do not generate a lot of new objects in my practice, so using these discarded plastic packages comes, in part, out of that. I am not thinking about plastic waste here, but also about the nature of packaging itself and that images are packaged for our consumption. I love and am very aware of the relationship between these ‘wild’ animals and the packaging of things for ‘domestic’ spaces.”
Escott uses other materials that might simply be laying casually around in any domestic scene or on any kitchen table – readymade Bic lighters, credit card solicitations, pre-stamped envelopes, etc. All items that we have become conditioned to accept as props for contemporary life’s staging of advanced anthropocene activity and excessive consumer behavior. Escott urges us to look into the duller side of these surfaces and the so-called wrappings of comfort to understand what might reveal our tragic connection to it all. And for now, it’s the interspecies huddling just over the hill that seems to perpetually escape us.
And the Crowd Had Rushed Together, Trying to Keep Warm is on view at Interface Gallery through February 24, 2013.
Images courtesy of the artist and Interface Gallery in Oakland