Huckleberry Finn Exhibition at the CCA Wattis Institute – Before

It’s been a flurry of activity on the art writing front! Although I have not been feeling well lately, I had to punch something out after recuperating from a tough morning. Yet, I was able to produce the write up below for the Critical Sources art writing workshop at The Lab. This is the “before” version.

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Writing offers readers archetypes and projections of the real world whether the writer intends for that or not. Like the curvaceous, long winding Mississippi river with tributaries flowing into the larger body of water; contemporary American life possesses an analogous structure and tendencies. From Allison Smith’s reproduction of historical artifacts serving as a narrative of the Antebellum South to Jason Meadow’s re-appropriating popular culture icons as an interpretation of Huck and Jim’s relationship throughout their journey; the wondrous, confluent effects of literature and visual arts on our perceptions and understanding of a complicated history permeates in the latest Huckleberry Finn exhibition at the Wattis Institute.

The wide-ranging collection inspired by Huck and Jim’s misadventures and voyage down the Mississippi River forge new ways of looking at the story and its portrayal of race relations and how environment can dictate one’s actions and reactions. In Sleeping by the Mississippi, a photographic series by Alex Soth, the river becomes a stage for the mind’s eye provoking the viewer to fathom a version of the tale. On the other end of the spectrum, Kireston Pieroth not only takes the actual story and presents it to the viewer; she preserves it in such a way that is tantamount to an American past time – jam and jelly making. With her presentation of the prose in an unorthodox way, Pieroth shows how the novel has become embedded and preserved in American history and culture.

While the lower gallery introduces us to the text, the upper gallery showcases the intricacies and intersections of racism and how the past affects our present day understanding of the classic prose. The exhibition goes to great lengths to remind patrons that a story not only mirrors what is relevant at a given time but it becomes perennial by its power to touch upon that which is universal – the human desire to understand ourselves through the Other.

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos is a writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research areas and interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, networked culture, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She is currently the managing editor for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Public Art Dialogue. She has lectured and spoken at the De Young museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” has been published to The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture in 2016. She serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism, board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center, and teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Digital Art and New Media department.

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