Through January 20
Wild Space Gallery, St Pete
The Factory’s Gallery Row in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, has a new gallery called Wild Space Gallery, opened by the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation – and what better way to launch a gallery than with a symbiotic project from the artistic team of Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse.
Curated by Noel Smith, the exhibition titled Circle of Water reflects ongoing explorations by Mickett and Stackhouse into the nature of water, its quality, how it moves, evaporates, circulates and flows – and in general how water affects and enables life on the planet. And conversely, the effects that humans have on water.
This last point is the existential focus of this exhibition.
On the gallery’s longest wall, painted blue as the sea, is a floor to ceiling map of Florida flanked by two equally large paintings of water, the combined whole of which can be read as a picture within a picture within an even larger picture.
The map, composed of individually drawn tiles highlighting water elements like lakes, rivers, wetlands, inlets and canals is titled State of Water. The painting on the left is called Memory of Water, and on the right is Idea of Water.
Considering that we’re all between 45-75 percent water, depending on age and other factors, these three works offer a metaphorical contemplation on our existence in body, mind and soul.
Idea of Water is the mind, in the way Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus ws thinking back around 500 B.C.E., when he theorized that water is an elemental substance.
Of course, we now know that it can be further broken down – but still, water is one of the primary signatures scientists search for when scanning the solar system and the cosmos beyond for signs of life.
Memory of Water is the soul that moves and stores experiences. A Japanese businessman Maseru Emoto once claimed that the quality of frozen water crystals exhibit the effects of that water being exposed to positive or negative emotions, and produced photographs of those ice crystals as proof.
While his claims are considered pseudoscience, on the experiential side, downstream water certainly contain many more particles and flavors than when it was upstream – making ice cubes for our drinks from the more pure upstream water preferential.
And the State of Water is this body, the framework through which life and water flows.
And whether that water is clean or polluted, this body, dehydrated or over-hydrated, reacts proportionately – for good or ill – similar to how Florida geography and ecology is affected by the rising and receding tides, droughts and floods, rain and hurricanes. . .
The Falkor is a state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel that in this particular voyage sailed from Mexico to Spain, paralleling the flow of the Gulf Stream.
One of the works in the exhibition, a mono print titled Aspects of Identity #57 is a coiled serpent around the topographic floor of the Gulf of Mexico, headwaters to the same Gulf Stream.
One project Mickett-Stackhouse did while on board was a thought experiment of how to cool the ocean because rising water temperatures drive stronger and more destructive hurricanes.
Mickett and Stackhouse performed symbolic gestures of cooling the ocean with different members of the Falkor crew every day of the journey by throwing ice cubes into the ocean.
It is a thought experiment because there’re consequences to every action, both predictable and unforeseen – and which ideas could or should be implemented, and which should never leave the drawing board.
Of these ice cubes – sacrificed in the name of art – Mickett and Stackhouse made portraits of each, which hang in a niche at one end of the Wild Space Gallery. Each painting includes the date, time, latitude and longitude, and water temperature of the spot where the cubes performed their purposeful death plunge.
If the ocean crossing on the Falkor is thinking globally, as in the motto – ‘Think Globally, Act Locally,’ then upon returning to their Tarpon Springs studio, Mickett and Stackhouse began couple of projects that would be specifically local.
One is the group of Mitigation Paintings, hung adjacent and facing the long blue-as-the-sea wall – images of whales, mangrove forests, swamps. . .
As explained in the exhibition label – Mitigation Paintings further explore the ways in which natural resources can help to remedy and even forestall the damages of climate change. The swamps, whales and trees depicted are all “carbon sinks,” in other words they absorb CO2, among their other contributions.”
There’s a charming group of small whale paintings, titled Whale Pod, a couple of which are endemic to the Gulf of Mexico.
Their other local initiative is a version of the Falkor ice throwing performance. In October 2022, they invited residents of neighboring communities in St. Petersburg, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs to kayak out to the Bay, inlets and Gulf waters near where they live and toss a ceremonial ice cube. I had opportunity to participate in the Tarpon Springs group event.
The whole project was called Cool Pinellas which was funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant through Creative Pinellas and the Pinellas County Commission. There were even T-shirts for each participant.
The summary is an installation titled Celebrating Cool Pinellas, on view through December 31 at the Creative Pinellas 2023 Arts Annual, where within a large portal-like ring are portraits of the said ice cubes, the cup designed by each participant that held “their” ice cube, and a monitor playing the documenting video filmed by St. Cate Fine Arts.
Tracing all the way back to the cave paintings, artists have always found unique ways of expressing the many human conditions and experiences, and visualizing the world around them.
NASA administrator, James Webb (the James Webb Space Telescope namesake) recognized this aspect of art’s ability to evoke emotive responses, and established the NASA Artist’s Cooperation Program in 1962 with the idea that artists could convey the deeper human aspirations of the space program rather than the “fleeting narratives” newspapers and TV coverage offered at that time.
Now living in the Anthropocene Age, facing similar “fleeting narratives” of our collective effect on the planet’s many interconnected ecosystems, artists along with renewable energy specialists, climate scientists and concern citizens are rising to the challenge to understand – and hopefully, each in their own and combined ways – mitigate, or simply slow our contributions to this very existential crisis.
Mickett and Stackhouse are artists who are part of this global conversation.
Coinciding with Art Week/Art Basel Miami Beach from December 6 through 10, Miami’s Frost Science Museum has an exhibition of Mickett-Stackouse works, which includes their participation in a panel discussion on the relationship between art and science, as a portion of the Present Ocean Program by Nautilus Magazine, UNESCO, and the Schmidt Ocean Institute partnership.
The painting, Aspects of Identity – Serpent (see the mono print version mentioned above but at the scale of the water paintings flanking the State of Water map), is the central piece in the exhibition.
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