Looking for a lost land

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Stilts, Sulfur Mine Island, Daniel Kariko

Take a look at a group of paintings by Van Gogh, and when you come across his still life of sunflowers you’re likely to think “aah, sunflowers.” But take a look at twenty different paintings of sunflowers first, and upon seeing this same painting you’re more likely to think “aah, Van Gogh.”

So it is when two different artists approach the same topic, you learn as much about the artists as you do the subject.

It’s this juxtaposition that drew Karen and Stephen Sugarman of Gallery 13 to assemble the exhibition “Terra Absentis,” featuring the artwork of Daniel Kariko and Michael Eble.

Both artists are captivated by and concerned with the destruction of natural wetlands in Louisiana.

Kariko approaches his subject on foot, with a camera; Eble comes at the wetlands with a paintbrush, from the air.

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Frontland, Michael Eble

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Reflection, Trinity

Daniel Kariko

Stephen Sugarman says pairing the two artists work gives us a double-perspective. He akins it to looking at a beautiful color map, with photographs taking us to places on the map

Eble gives you this expansive view while, Koriko gives you a close-up of what’s on the ground. I like the contrast between black-and-white polaroids and these paintings. Painting and photography have an interesting relationship to one another that doesn’t get highlighted very often. Photography is seen now as more technical, more real, while painting is considered more of an abstraction. But that’s not true. They’re both abstractions, both artists choose how much to show you, and how they frame the image

Sugarman says the two artists’ work have more in common than just their subject. Eble starts with a digital camera when he’s flying over the wetlands. And Koriko, Sugarman insists, is “painting with light” when he uses his barebones pinhole camera.

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Kariko creates a nostalgic feel with his raw polaroid framing and stark lighting. If one didn’t know better they might think his photos were from the WPA project in the 1930s, documenting the depression. But no, this is today. In an artist statement, Kariko writes:

These pinhole photographs were taken …in the aftermath of recent hurricanes. Louisiana is experiencing the highest rate of coastal erosion in America, losing about one hundred yards of land every thirty minutes. That is a size of a football field every half-hour.

The barrier islands of Southeast Louisiana are some of the youngest and most unstable landforms on earth. These Islands represent the “First Line of Defense” against such hurricanes. Our, often adversarial relationship with the world outside ultimately reveals our inability to adapt to the natural process. We stop the flooding of rivers by building levees, yet that destroys the wetlands that protect us from storm surges. These photographs set out to illustrate the results of such failed relations.

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Parallel Passage, Michael Eble

Eble’s images also draw in the viewer, but his paintings do it with lush colors rather than nostalgic black and white. From a distance the paintings look like they could be photographs, but upon closer inspection they reveal rough, jagged strokes that speak to the violence with which the land has been broken up by man-made waterways. He writes:

I found that the images taken from the air to be the most compelling. From the air, I could fully comprehend the vast scale of the problem and see the delicate relationship between land and water.

Both artists are obviously inspired not just by their medium, but the message as well. Using different tools and different palettes, they call our attention to the same piece of land that’s slowly slipping away.

Stephen Sugarman says it’s the role of the artist to bring our focus in gentle ways to issues such as the environment.

People somehow think that the ecological movement is underway and we can all be optimistic about the future, but I think it’s way too soon for that. I hope as a result of this exhibition they’ll think more about another part of the country which has problems. Katrina was a wake-up call – but we fell back asleep a year later.

“Terra Absentis: Louisiana’s Disappearing Landscape” opens tomorrow night and runs through May 9.

  • http://Www.forthebayou.org Elizabeth Welborn

    Thank you to Karen and Stephen for your focus on Louisiana’s dying wetlands. The devastation from the recent hurricanes over this past decade would be minimal if Louisiana’s wetlands had not faced the destruction by man and industry over the past 75 years. We must restore and protect louisiana’s wetlands or continue to face the loss one of the world’s largest coastal wetland ecosystems, the entire coast of Louisiana, one of America’s largest suppliers of seafood and its biggest port systems- not to mention the possible loss of an entire culture and people.

    Thank you!

    Elizabeth Welborn