TOTEMISTS: Tina Braegger, Olivia Erlanger, Amy Granat, Nick Herman, Luchita Hurtado, Andrea Longacre-White, and Carlos Reyes, organized by Marie Heilich
February 2- March 9, 2019, Opening Saturday, February 2, 5 - 8 pm
In our secular time, when mystics and mediums are considered speculative at best, the realm of art holds space to account for today’s totemic objects and practices. A universal phenomenon among pre-industrial societies, totems protected a community’s prosperity by implicating each member in the responsibility of protecting the totem. This obligation ranged from not harming a specific animal or plant, to actively feeding, rescuing, or caring for it as needed. In today’s modernized and globalized world it’s easy to feel alienated from any such responsibility, while, at the same time, the urgency for environmental conservation has grown exponentially. To this end, TOTEMISTS is an exhibition of seven contemporary artists that each, in their own way, reinstate totemic practices.
As symbols of identification, totems connect a signifier, seemingly pregnant with meaning, to the fantasy of a primordial kernel of the signified. But when peeling back the layers of familiar symbols, mascots, or trademarks that traffic in significance, we find that they don’t so much hold some pre-existing fullness, already containing all of the meanings attributed to them, but rather, the totem is an empty place from which to see the other and identify the self, only retrospectively recognized through difference.
Drawing on the writing of Donna Haraway, the exhibition explores her notion of “kin” to describe the complex intersections of human and nonhuman systems and the continued necessity to map these relationships. To restate Haraway’s sentiment, “to be a one at all, you must be a many.” Haraway’s multi-species act of “becoming with” illustrates ecosystems’ interdependence while working against a human-centric model of forced production and extraction from the natural world. By recognizing totem’s patriarchal and hierarchical legacy, the exhibition affirms the historic failure and continued relevance of totems as facilitators of coexistence and biodiversity.
Tina Braegger has been writing fiction and making paintings that appropriate the marching Grateful Dead bear’s amalgamated folklore since 2012. The mascot’s amorphous identity has allowed the symbol to amass potentially infinite contexts for collective self-identification. From an anthropological perspective, Braegger mines the fertile icon by engaging the gaps and misinterpretations that such a full signifier embodies.
Olivia Erlanger choreographs ultramodern environments through installations, videos, and writing, that show how advanced technologies engender subjectivity. Within TOTEMISTS, her arcane and nomadic merm-folk reappear after washing up in a Los Angeles laundromat in 2018. The genderless ocean being’s noncompliance with machines forewarns a catastrophic ecological fate.
Amy Granat works unconventionally with film. Scratching the emulsion surface, breaking through celluloid, and using dirty chemicals, she builds layers of light and shadow in her films, photographs, and photograms. Totemic stacks of collaged photographs and photograms range from the abstract, referencing her Structuralist predecessors, to those that obliquely allude to more specific entities, such as La Mer, referencing motherhood and the ocean.
Using long camera exposures and a green-screen suit, Nick Herman documents the process of “playing” and animating his antenna-like sculptures in the studio. Capturing this private ongoing activity in a suite of black and white photographs, the prints are in turn manipulated through drawing and scratching. While the antennae are absent, the artist has recorded their cicada-like drone sounds in a series of sound works that emanate through the gallery space as aggregated overflow of information and evidence of residual desire.
Growing up in 1920’s Venezuela, Luchita Hurtado’s interest in art was sparked while spending time in nature, a muse that would persist throughout her life’s work. Although skeptical of the messages of the Latin American Catholic church, Luchita found inspiration in the rituals and sensations of church services’ music, lilies, and burning of incense. A selection of works on paper highlight the artist’s mystic connection with animals and the natural world, situating the human experience within nature. Although Hurtado has gone largely under-recognized as an artist throughout her life, her work’s reemergence in 2016 has prompted newfound public recognition.
Andrea Longacre-White’s sculptures correspond with notions of submission, domination, and connection in human and non-human relationships. Exploring different forms of bonds, her sculptures feel out the affective double bind that limits joy to correspond with the amount of suffering that precedes it. Stacked Amazon boxes merged with concrete act as a pedestal for twin bundles of diapers swaddled in blushing satin. Tethered to the wall, a string of enlarged 3-D printed teething rings serve as a postpartum emblem to pleasure and pain, that are not unlike adult toys.
Carlos Reyes uses time and space to translate the essence of objects through shifting contexts. With an elliptical logic, his works and exhibitions often play the role of anti-hero as they progress backwards or fold in on themselves. A blood-red pillar houses silhouettes of charm necklaces on display. Now absent, the symbols have been recorded in sun-bleached velvet, forever atoning a trace of their original sentiment.