New exhibit displays anaqueous approach to pressing global crises
The Santa Clara
February 14, 2019
For most, water is just a drink, a means to an end. But for artists Erin Goodwin-Guerrero, Stan Welsh and Margitta Dietrick-Welsh, it’s a portal to the modern condition.
If you think that’s too much pressure to put on little H20 molecules, you wouldn’t be wrong. That’s why these artists collaborated to capture their aquatic insights in “Cross Currents,” a multimedia exhibition on display in the Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History Building.
Based in California, Goodwin-Guerrero, Welsh and Dietrick-Welsh found themselves at an epicenter of two global crises—climate change and immigration. As artists, they decided to deal with these growing catastrophes through an expressive collection of watercentric artwork.
Hosted by Santa Clara’s Art and Art History Department, “Cross Currents” plunges visitors into an oceanic environment. The vast white walls on which the pieces hang recall the emptiness of the deep ocean and the overhead lamps hit the artwork like shafts of light plunging through the chaotic waves of the surface.
In fact, the gallery format feels similar to a modestly budgeted aquarium, only in this exhibit, the thick glass panes of sea otter habitats are replaced with opaque art capturing a further breadth of aquatic life. The only element missing is a coastal soundtrack on the speakers.
Contrasting with their soothing presentation, the art itself flinches with tension. From the clashing panes of “Surge” to the abrupt collage of “Challenge of the Sea,” the artists constantly inject conflict into the pieces.
According to Welsh and Dietrick-Welsh, the artistic team sought to convey the “tenuousness” of our existence—especially with nature—and the multimedia style certainly evokes this stress.
The couple’s “Shipwreck”—a combination of photography, wicker, watercolor and pencil—effuses tension in its portrayal of a fragile and ancient sailboat in front of a burning ship on the ocean.
The contrast between the three-dimensional terra cotta sculpture in the foreground and the flat burning boat in the background jars the mind, and the imperfectly sized sheet of wicker throws the entire image off-balance.
This helter-skelter scene characterizes much of the collection, with challenging imagery for the challenging times the artists feel we inhabit.
Perhaps the most striking features of the exhibition are the clay sculptures of straining migrants, literally trapped in-between the spaces of the art. Touring the collection in a clockwise direction, these sculptures evolve to tell a story of their increasingly bedraggled fates.
The figures directly to the left of the entrance heave under the burdens of their too large pots and packs, and as they progress, their baggage grows more outlandish, portending to the dark fates of current trends. By the end, these figures—such as the distinctive migrant of “Lotus” pressed against two heavy leaves—suffocate under the weight of their journeys. For Goodwin-Guerrero, Welsh and Dietrick-Welsh, water isn’t the only subject constantly in flux.
However, despite the tension of these pieces, their subject matter and craft inherently soothe. The painful yet earthly edges of the migrant figures recall stones picked fresh from a trickling stream, and the round blues of work like Goodwin-Guerrero’s “Water Bearing” act as ASMR for the eyes.
Occasionally, the collection breaks from this intrinsic tranquility, such as in the aforementioned “Shipwreck” and another piece, “Buddha’s Hand,” whose harsh yellow colors and sharp axe subject grind with the whale-like languidness of the environment.
Yet these pieces bring a sense of urgency to the exhibition, completing the artists’ meaning. The calming beauty of water is fleeting, and we must take action to continue enjoying it.
Fortunately, unlike our drinking water, the aqua pura in these pieces won’t dry up anytime soon, but that won’t stop them from disappearing on April 5 when the collection closes. Stop by before then, and submerge yourself in the ceaseless serenity of Goodwin-Guerrero, Welsh and Dietrick-Welsh’s imagery.
Contact Brandon Schultz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.