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Vol. LXIII, No. 41
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
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“Dry Ice” Reveals a Changing Landscape in the Arts Council’s Latest Exhibition

Dilshanie Perera

Ecology, change, and identity all swirl together in the works of nine artists at the Arts Council’s exhibition, “Dry Ice: Alaska Native Artists and the Landscape.”

A collaboration between the Arts Council of Princeton, the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, and the Princeton University Art Museum, the show evolved from discussions among the institutions three years ago.

As the Art Museum was preparing for its own show, “Gifts from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories of Bering Strait,” featuring ancient objects, the group thought a parallel exhibition of contemporary Alaskan art would be timely and appropriate, said Arts Council Executive Director Jeff Nathanson.

Exhibition Curator Julie Decker said that the works in “Dry Ice” share “an intimate connection with the land and landscape, at looking at identity in terms of a connection to a place and a climate, and a more direct relationship between lifestyle and climate.” She added that “there is a sensitivity, a thoughtfulness, a history, a cultural tradition of looking at the environment.

“The Arctic is changing more dramatically than any other part of the globe, and many of these artists have first-hand perspectives of the changes,” she said.

Da-ka-xeen Mehner’s Right-of-Way, a diptych of composite digital photographs, deals with oil in Alaska. His statement reads, “My relationship with the land is intertwined with the pipeline that runs the length of Alaska …. I see beauty in the landscape, with its scars, wounds, and bounty as part of the whole.”

Ms. Decker corroborated that sentiment, saying of the works on view, “There is also a recognition that oil development and other use of natural resources are complicated issues rather than simple ones.”

Pointing out Erica Lord’s video installation Binary Selves, Mr. Nathanson said that the work offers a unique glimpse into Alaskan throat singing, a cultural musical practice that women engage in, which involves guttural sounds produced with singers facing one another.

“This isn’t performed in concert halls,” Mr. Nathanson noted, describing the practice as “emotional and intimate.”

Other surprises included an e-mail from an artist in the show explaining that he would be away on a caribou hunt for a few days, Mr. Nathanson recalled, saying that prior to “Dry Ice” his “experience in the art world had been that artists aren’t also hunters.”

Describing the process of working with Alaskan contemporary art as yielding a “really different learning experience,” Mr. Nathanson said that “even though we’re all Americans, sometimes we’re worlds apart.”

“There’s a real fear of what’s happening with global warming,” he added.

In the introduction to the exhibition, Ms. Decker writes that “many scientists suggest that the North will be the place that signals the onset of destabilizing changes to world ecosystems,” and adds that “artists have long been observers, documenters, and storytellers of change.”

Other artists whose work is featured in the show include Brian Adams, Susie Bevins, Perry Eaton, Nicholas Galanin, Anna Hoover, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, and Larry McNeil.

Dry Ice” is on view at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts until November 21.

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