THE RED WOOD is an ongoing virtual exhibition that looks at our current landscape through the lens of the wildfires, and more broadly, the Anthropocene. The term landscape is used here literally and figuratively; while some artists directly reference the fires, others take stock of this moment in a more historical or holistic sense. One major current of this exhibition is the use of the uncanny to address the surreality of our New Normal. Other artists face the moment through fragmentation, transformation and meditation.
The exhibition will unfold on this website and our Instagram account @the.red.wood. View submission guidelines.
Founded & curated by Julia Westerbeke.
Exhibition Prompt, Sept 10th, 2020:
What do you do when your home becomes alien? When the warmth and security of the familiar is transformed into the uncanny? We all asked ourselves this question on September 9th in Northern California, when every person with a smartphone tried to capture the strangely incandescent orange sky. Due to the ongoing fires, heavy smoke particulates blocked the shorter wavelength light (blues and purples) leaving only longer wavelength oranges and reds. Many people likened it to waking up on the surface of Mars, by turns mesmeric and unnerving.
So I will repeat myself since I don’t have an answer: What do you do? What IS there to do? With the fires raging ahead of schedule, a full month before the heart of the season. With a pandemic and a blanket of smoke that creates a double quarantine. With the brutality of systemic racism thrown into sharp relief, and the worry for friends who are doing the crucial work of protesting in the streets. With record heat waves and impending rolling blackouts. With the gnawing sense that this is the New Normal, when in fact scientists have repeatedly warned us that, no, it’s going to get worse.
And all of this doesn’t even take into account the people actually displaced due to fire, the communities, lives and land lost. I have my go-bag packed, but I haven’t had to use it this year. For those of us lucky enough to be in our homes, our experience of loss is often psychological, a persistent psychic weight. Being outdoors is part of the California identity. It’s a false promise we tell ourselves— a little too uncomplicated and romantic— but we honestly think of the outdoors as an inalienable right. In this way, the fires cut to the core of our selfhood. We are psychically uprooted, indoors, taping windows, trapped in more than one sense. And all the while, farm laborers are harvesting crops & vineyards. Those of us indoors are the fortunate ones.
Joan Didion once said that the east coast cannot escape its past, while the west often refuses to accept that it has a past at all. In a state where climate change and 150 years of fire suppression have created a tinderbox tipping-point, I’m wondering how that sense of denial serves us now. Under the glowing skies of September 9th, we thought that our landscape had been changed overnight— the familiar to foreign on the turn of a dime— but we know better: it has been changing for a long time.
Fire as purifier is so simple an adage that it verges on the offensive. But perhaps when faced with these mounting crises, we can choose to distill something-- to clarify our identity in this new landscape and what we want to do with it. How do we choose to exist in this new normal that, yes, promises to get worse?
As the fires are ongoing, so too is this exhibit. I would like to create an exhibition that has the capacity to grow over time, giving us ongoing opportunities to process, explore, mourn, motivate and better understand what we’re going through.
Joshua Hagler Artist Statement:
These small abstracts/landscapes are typically made in a number of short bursts over a period of time until they're finished. The materials are always leftover--leftover paint, scraps, wood, etc.--and comprise what I have been calling the "New Mexico" series for the past year or so. I think it's this kind of "scraped-together" materiality that gives them their pathos. Since starting them, I've come to feel that the "New Mexico" I mean to convey is really in the sense of relation I have to the land here, its felt presence, the shift in my orientation with space and time in living here, more than it is a depiction of the place itself. Recently, I've noticed the strangeness of the sunsets as the western states, including New Mexico, burn. There is a way that suddenly being able to look directly at the sun, its beauty and portension of danger, what I remember the surrealists calling "convulsive beauty," resembles life in general now: a baby who doesn't eat because of a tongue- and lip-tie and the self-imposed quarantine we keep ourselves in because of our concern for her health especially. The sun gets dimmer, the rooms of our house get smaller, our sleep gets shorter, our bodies fall apart. I have allergies in September, a first, and Mila, at the same time, got a sinus infection. I can't prove it has to do with the fires, but we keep seeing these little yellow finches dead around town, and it turns out they're dying throughout the state: New Mexico Mystery: Why Are So Many Birds Dropping Dead? So it seems to me that if the fires can kill these birds, they can certainly cause allergies and sinus infections. I guess that's not to do specifically with the paintings, but these are the things I think about while making them. I would compare them to something more like a haiku than a heavy well-researched essay.