It is Earth month. It’s no coincidence that through April the Pleiades Gallery at 109 East Chapel Hill Street in downtown Durham will host “Changing Worlds: Earth Month Exhibit and Community Programming”. This exhibit is presented by Carin Walsh and Jenny Blazing and in association with Pleiades Arts and The Bull Meets the Bayou arts collaborative.
Changing Worlds at Pleiades Gallery
by: Aaron Mandel
Walsh’s and Blazing’s press release talks about “Climate Silence”.
Climate silence posits that many leaders and economic elites are so afraid of the changes that will be wreaked on the Earth’s ecology in the coming decades that they don’t want people to talk about them. They are less concerned with outcomes for the planetary ecosystem than they are with sustaining their fossil fuel driven profits and and lifestyles.
Blazing and Walsh have themed the exhibit around our planet Earth, celebrating its gifts and highlighting the need to protect its health and with that our fragile human existence.
I first talked with Carin Walsh about this exhibit many months ago now. From the beginning she and Blazing have made clear that they wanted to involve the community in this project. The Pleiades community. The Durham artist community. The Durham community. The environmentalist community. And now as the show opens the thread of involvement stretches all the way to New Orleans. This is a natural and deliberate outgrowth of their process which sees the protection of the Earth as couched in this communitarian psychology.
On the first floor of the gallery, Pleiades artists respond to the prompt, “Changing Worlds”.
On the second floor Walsh and Blazing have collaborated on a multi-media installation that is one of the most amazing pieces that I have seen in a decade of covering the Durham art scene.
Firstly, it is a huge wall mural constructed by Jenny Blazing. Blazing describes the scraps she keeps for collaging her murals as making her sometimes feel like a bag lady. But if you have looked upon her layered works, you are glad she does it. Usually they are imaginary city-scapes, which she refers to as worlds. Sometimes they begin with the collaged materials, other times with the painting. Sometimes she uses the Japanese style of mark making as a beginning point. Other times she draws upon an old series of truck parts that embedded themselves in her art way back in Jerome, Arizona.
Stand ten feet from one of Blazing’s city-scapes, and if she didn’t tell you, you’d have no idea that all these amazing materials were embedded in it. Furthermore, you’d swear it was a real city. She had to be looking at a picture of a city somewhere or at least a stillframe of the Matrix.
For “Changing Worlds” Blazing went outside of her normal comfort zone. The mural represents an imagined Durham.
She used so many amazing bits to fuse this construct, there is even a truck headlight poking out from the phantasmagorically imagined Duke Chapel. The Lucky Strike smokestack is visible. But other buildings that loom over the gray scene don’t exist, perhaps suggesting future development in Durham imagined by the artist.
The Blazing piece alone is stunning and powerful, but what takes it to the next level is Carin Walsh’s contribution. This is an incredible video that uses Blazing’s mural as its screen and runs in an approximately five minute loop with a powerfully evocative soundtrack.
Walsh is an animator among her other artistic talents, who typically does hand drawn animation. For “Changing Worlds Now”, the plan was for her to make a video animation that would interact with Blazing’s work.
She reports now she had no idea what she was promising. She had never used video animation software previously. A notoriously hard-working, self-challenging person, Walsh threw herself into the effort. Before long, she realized she was going to need to take a leave from her work at Duke’s Nasher Musuem, which they graciously granted her.
Walsh told me it became fourteen hour day, after fourteen hour day. She hardly got out of her pajamas. She just sat with the animation software. There were tears and F-Bombs. At one point she crashed something and thought she’d lost all of her files.
Walsh says she never would have survived the process if her husband, Kevin, wasn’t “a saint”.
Her animation posits an ecological horror show for Durham’s future. Buildings sprout in Blazing’s mural via Walsh film. First, the old Durham Flatiron building appears and disappears. Then, following the sequence of construction writ by our Durham forebears, viewers see the building that became the 21C appear, then the Lucky Strike Tower, then the NC Mutual Building, then University Tower (the pickle with faulty windows by old Southsquare), and finally crane after crane signals this new era. One City Center pops up.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but trust me Walsh and Blazing surely hold with those who think if we (humans) don’t change our ways, our future will be ugly (and perhaps short).
Filmmaker and visual artist Jaclyn Bowie was instrumental in connecting The Bull Meets Bayou Collaborative to the project.
Work by New Orleans artist, Anna Berta Hernandez, a New Orleans participating artist in the Bull Meets the Bayou, is on display in the Pleiades upstairs gallery, including an intricately layered piece called “Fields of Filth” created specifically for this exhibit. It singles out North Carolina on a gilded background made from the imprints of hogs’ feet for our industrial pig slaughtering industry and the concomitant environmental destruction wrought.
Hernandez is also the founder of the New Orleans based Level Arts Collective. Her work has been exhibited at The New Orleans Museum of Modern Art, The Carroll Gallery at Tulane University, The Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, and many more venues.
“In our rapid-fire culture of political turmoil, it is easy to ignore the palpable signs that our planet is suffering. The major media outlets, under constant attack, rarely bring focus to environmental abuses or the social justice issues that can and do result. Yet if left unchecked, the climate course we’re on will have ramifications permeating all aspects of society – politics, economics, public health, global stability, immigration, and national security.”—Carin Walsh and Jenny Blazing
Confront it, Durham.
Events scheduled. Free and open to the public:
Sat Apr 7th 7:30pm – Animated Shorts Film Screening featuring talks by participating filmmakers Eri Yokoyama (“Tokio”) and Jaclyn Bowie (“Geij”). Kunio Kato’s academy award winning short “The House of Small Cubes” will also be shown.
Sat Apr 14th 7:30pm – Guest Artists Talk: Donn Young, a New Orleans photographer and journalist lost his studio to Hurricane Katrina. Now a Triangle resident, he will reflect on his amazing response to this difficult experience and the exhibition of historic proportions that resulted. Featured artist, Ana Berta Hernandez will share (via video) how environmental issues inform her artistic journey as an artist currently living and working in New Orleans.
Fri Apr 20th 6-9pm – Durham Third Friday reception
Sun Apr 22nd (time tbd) – Earth Day activities
Pleiades Arts is located in the heart of downtown Durham at 109 E Chapel Hill St, Durham 27701. Gallery hours are Thu 12-7, Fri/Sat 12-8, Sun 12-3 plus special events and by appointment.
Direct Changing Worlds Earth Month Exhibit inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org