Front International Cleveland Triennial explores healing through artistic creation
Across the harbor from Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where yachts can be seen gliding toward Lake Erie, two waterspouts shoot skyward like whale exhalations. This fountain is part of To those who feed (2022), a three-year project by London duo Cooking Sections that tackles low oxygen levels in the lake caused by agricultural runoff. Organized by Spaces Gallery and commissioned by Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Artwhose second edition opened July 16 after a year-long pandemic delay, the book is a tribute to nine Ohio farms committed to phasing out chemical fertilizers.
“The primary purpose of the fountain is to celebrate the farmers who have invested in their work to save Lake Erie, in a city and region that repeatedly commemorates those who have benefited most from extractive practices,” Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernández Pascual of Cooking Sections. say, adding that pumping aerates the water but is not a panacea: “The problem must be addressed at the source and not by technological or geo-engineering ‘solutions’.”
As a small but highly visible gesture to lift the health of the lake, the fountain is one of the most palpable representations of the healing theme of the 2022 triennale. Titled Oh gods of dust and rainbows, from a line in a poem by Langston Hughes, the exhibition asks “the question of how art can heal and transform on different scales,” says Prem Krishnamurthy, artistic director of Front. “We looked to Cleveland and saw a story of healing and a story of community.”
Particularly fitting during a year disrupted by crises such as new variants of Covid, unprecedented heat waves and a rise in gun violence, the theme emerged before the pandemic, in 2019. “We spent time here at think of the immense prosperity produced in Cleveland at a particular time, but also the environmental and social costs of that, the fact that Cleveland experiences racial injustice and division,” Krishnamurthy says. “Just in the past few weeks, with Jayland Walker filming in Akron, we can see how this region still experiences so much division and suffering. But as we examined these historical facts, we also found reasons for hope.
The result distributes 100 artists to Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin, including spaces like gardens, bars and the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio’s second largest employer. after Walmart. Many are from Cleveland or the surrounding area, including Renée Green, whose first major exhibition in her hometown, the must-see Contact (2022), fills the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland with a poetic web of ideas that engage her works in touching conversation with former students and other artists who influenced her.
Front’s planned debut is Transformer Station, which provides examples of how an art-making routine can heal, the pleasures of gathering around art, and the big changes artists can unleash. There are works by several artists that resurface throughout the triennale, such as Paul O’Keeffe, whose large-scale sculptures embody the endless grief of losing a child, and Dexter Davis, who for years has dealt the trauma of a near-fatal shooting. through works based on collages. Their recurrences help create cohesion in what often feels like an ambiguous (though sometimes rightly opaque) approach to healing, with the didactics rarely naming what exactly prompted the need to heal.
An explicit work of pain that informs it is February, one of Devan Shimoyama’s hanging hoodies adorned with silk flowers and rhinestones – shimmering shrines to black men killed by police who avoid reproducing traumatic imagery. It is the first work visitors encounter in a group exhibition at the Akron Art Museum, where it evokes the fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker on June 27. The Conservatives are offering no statement on police brutality in Akron, although they have quietly postponed the installation of a public dance floor by Swedish band Dansbana!.
The Akron Art Museum’s presentation is one of the strongest of the triennale, bringing together cross-generational artists on craft and healing. The mesmerizing linked sculptures of Judith Scott and the lyrically kinetic, manipulated tires of Chakaia Booker are here with emerging artists like Akron-based Seuil Chung, whose brightly colored glazed sandstone frames the body like a site of play and exudes a quality endearing cartoon. Nearby, Dominic Palarchio’s small-scale readymades focus on our daily closeness to environmental hazards, merging safeguards like water purifiers and carbon monoxide alarms with dirty filters and bottle caps. gas.
Northwest of Oberlin, Ahmet Öğüt’s installation at the Allen Memorial Art Museum is also a reminder that security is a precarious state. The work Bakunin Barricade (2022) follows anarchist Mikhail Bakunin’s unrealized proposal during the socialist uprisings in Dresden in 1849 to adorn the barricades with paintings in the National Museum to deter Prussian troops. Half of Öğüt’s work is a towering barricade incorporating works from the Allen Collection by artists such as Andy Warhol and Eva Hesse, selected with input from Oberlin students. The other half is a contract obliging the museum to loan the barricade if needed during an uprising. Öğüt expands the possibilities of art in a time of upheaval while emphasizing the value of opposition. “I saw barricades during the uprisings in Istanbul, I witnessed Occupy Wall Street, and in Ukraine they brought a museum tank back to the streets,” he says. “It is happening. It’s not fantasy.
Öğüt’s work is one of many in Front that engages with neighboring communities, a curatorial move that likely responds to criticism that the inaugural triennale failed to represent the locals. In addition to their fountain, the kitchen sections is in long-term discussion with farmers on alternative farming methods and related challenges, such as legislation, credit structures and access to land. The forum aims to build a support network, encourage knowledge sharing, and “increase the visibility and viability of this type of work that is mostly invisible in states like Ohio, which are primarily run by large agricultural and agricultural enterprises”, say the artists.
So there is Dawn (2022) by Jacolby Satterwhite, who teamed up with Clevelanders LaToya Kent and RA Washington to ask residents of the Fairfax neighborhood to imagine a utopia. The answers came in the form of drawings (participants were paid), which Satterwhite animated and integrated into an immersive, playable arcade at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) and a permanent outdoor video on the Cleveland Clinic campus. The clinic has a historically fractured relationship with the surrounding black neighborhoods, and Dawn was a way for him to “interface with the community in a different way,” says Krishnamurthy.
A gorgeous trance-inducing video of Satterwhite loops the chorus “It’s healing music,” which could describe several other works. cory arcangel I salute you marie is an algorithmic carillon score generated daily and played at noon by carillonist George Leggiero from the tower of a Cleveland church. Fusing traditional bell music and new media, the performance is magically insane, injecting a brief wonder into the routine of time.
Meanwhile, in the main building of the Cleveland Public Library, Jace Clayton presents 40 part part (2022), a riff on Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller The forty-part motet (2001), which deconstructs a 16th century choral work through 40 loudspeakers in a circle. Clayton updates this for the Bluetooth era, inviting visitors to connect their devices and play tunes that an algorithm mutes and defamiliarizes. The results, which have a strong textural quality, call those present in the typically hushed environment to bask in the sheer joy of whimsical and fun rhythms.
At the Cleveland Clinic’s Samson Pavilion, karaoke fans can gather in the KTV lounge-like setting for Wong Kit Yi’s Inner Voice Transplant, a video that meditates on illness and spiritual healing through centuries of various health practices. As Wong’s narrator speaks, his lyrics sound like inviting karaoke lyrics. At one point, she expresses her skepticism about healing – one of the few moments in the triennale that refreshingly questions the effectiveness and access to this process.
“Not everyone can be cured and maybe not everyone needs to be cured,” Wong’s narrator says. “Sometimes I feel like the word ‘cure’ starts to sound like an over-the-counter generic drug that can be thrown at any problem. And maybe that can cause additional problems. It can lead us to aspire to an idealized standard that never really existed.
Isabelle Andriessen’s futuristic sculptures at Spaces embody these complications. Constructed of ceramic, steel, wax, silicone and plastic, they give off a toxic aura. Nocturnes (2021), which resembles a cyborg creature, trails threads that cool its interior so that it sweats a brown liquid. In an abject performance, this pool gradually expands, suggesting decomposition. Andriessen’s sculptures reject traditional modes of healing, accepting collapse as inevitable. As part of this triennial, they wonder how far healing can take us, especially in a gritty and poisonous world. They confront us with the sad truth that not all wounds can be repaired.
- Front International: Cleveland Contemporary Art Triennialthrough Oct. 2, various locations across Ohio