Visual Arts Review: Revival – Materials and Monumental Forms – artsfuse.org | Candle Made Easy

By Chloe Pingeon

This exhibition is impressive in making connections between material goods and work, creating beauty from unconventional forms.

Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms at the ICA Watershed, Boston through September 4th.

Joe Wardwell, Gotta Go to Work, Gotta Go to Work, Gotta Get a Job, 2022. Acrylic on wall, dimensions vary. Installation view at Materials and Monumental Forms, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2022. Photo: Charles Mayer.

I arrived at the ICA watershed by boat. It’s a sunny afternoon, and the choppy ride through Boston Harbor feels like a sharp departure from the clean and polished facade of the ICA headquarters I’m leaving in the distance. The boat is open and surrounded by wind, spray and the approaching East Boston docks. I leave the feeling of an abstract space created by a gallery and connect to the physical world as I take the boat ride to the East Boston Watershed. (It’s a distance by car or public transportation from the ICA seaport, so the boat ride is a welcome convenience.). Yet the movement through Boston Harbor, cast parallel to East Boston’s fishing boats, serves as part of the aesthetic experience of the ICA watershed, a connection to the natural world and the region’s vibrant communities.

Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms addresses production and dependency. Nothing is made from nothing, no work is done by disembodied hands. The material used to create objects is reused, layered and recycled. Along the way, ownership and accreditation become increasingly difficult to determine. The Watershed show takes a critical look at these layers of production. The pieces here are made from repurposed material, from salvaged car taillights to protest song lyrics. The concept of the exhibition is that the artists give credit to undervalued work by creating new forms out of old ones. In the past, the East Boston Watershed was a copper tube and sheet manufacturing facility. In 2018, the building was repurposed for the ICA, so the structure itself dramatizes the idea of ​​reusing materials and acknowledging the work of previous workers.

Upon entering the building you will see a large white billboard with the phrase: “The ICA Watershed was born out of our engagement to connect Contemporary Art and Community on both Sides of Boston Harbor.” Behind the sign are the building’s raw stone walls and cement floor visible. The group exhibition shown features six international artists who have created just as many large-scale installations. Your initial visual perception becomes all the stronger as the art is surrounded by a vast negative space of the structure. Only the first two installations are visible from the entrance. There is a shimmering black wall of five collages mounted on a white frame by Ebony G. Patterson. At first glance, the piece depicts a brightly colored garden blooming in wild profusion. But if you take a closer look, you can see the figures of three women who are overwhelmed by the growth. In order to create something, you have to destroy something, seems to be the ambivalent message here. The figures are swallowed up by the gardens with the fruits of their labour. The collages refer to the agricultural exploitation of colonialism; those cultivating the earth are lost and then forgotten once the harvest is reaped. Directly behind Patterson’s collages shimmers El Anastui’s “Area B”, a sculpture made of aluminum and copper, whose wave-like form creates an illusion of fluidity, of liquid movement, mostly metallic make-up. The installation’s fluidity is symbolic of the mutability of maps, property, and space.

Karyn Olivier, Fortified, 2018-2022. Brick, used clothing, and steel, approximately 144 × 240 × 30 in (365.8 × 609.6 × 76.2 cm). Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles. Installation view, Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2022. Photograph by Charles Mayer.

The rest of the exhibition meanders in a maze-like formation. The echoing watershed space is constant as I weave around temporary walls and take in the towering installations. Madeline Hollander uses junkyard cars to create an almost lyrical depiction of flickering headlights and abandoned tailgates. Ibrahim Mahama’s wall of crates and abandoned suitcases stands alongside Kathryn Oliver’s wall of abandoned clothing, in which textiles replace traditional mortar. Finally, there’s Joe Wardwall’s site-specific commission, Gotta go to work, gotta go to work, gotta get a job. Projected against a glass wall through which the East Boston harbor and horizon are visible, the work layers protest song lyrics and personal reflections of the East Boston community against a view of East Boston. It is framed by a metal structure whose lines run parallel to the architecture of the watershed.

This exhibition is impressive in making connections between material goods and work, creating beauty from unconventional forms. But unlike other recent ICA exhibitions, such as the comprehensive overview of the life and work of photographer Deana Lawson, the message is disappointingly transparent. Six artists were commissioned to create works that treated work products as abstractions, and they were successful. The social concerns of these crudely physical but beautiful works are their obvious starting and ending points. Ironically, the ICA watershed itself, a monumental example of material transformation and renewal and labor displacement, says as much, if not more, than the show on the subject.


Chloe Pingeon She recently graduated from Boston College, where she studied film and journalism. She has been a regular contributor to the features and arts sections of Boston College’s Independent Student Newspaper the heightsand has also written for the culture department of lithium magazine. She is currently a creative development intern at Foundation Films.

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