The word drift evokes connotations of lazy summer days, of cruising on long road trips, and aimless wanderings in the forest, in other words, of summer. And so, it’s more than appropriate to see how local artists responded to this broad theme of drifting during the dog days of the very presently felt hot St. Louis summer. Working deftly the real and the imagined, the present and the past, “Drift” at Art Saint Louis on 555 Washington is a strong juried group show that satisfyingly pulls together the different associations we all have with a word like drift.
Jessi Cerutti’s 10 Rivers, 1000 Years (2011) is the most visually striking piece of the show, as it literally dominates the space with its size. Made of handmade paper, a sort of sand-colored river that gleefully and organically starts on the wall, but then continues out of the picture plane mounted on the wall and onto the floor, several feet out into the gallery space. Forcing viewers to walk around it and engage with it, Cerutti’s piece is bold but also gentle in its confrontation. The delicately made paper (from cotton, flax, hamp, and wheat among other materials) is at once a river, a river bank, and a refuge, drifting between associations of calm and destruction, of physical and emotional for which Cerutti was duly given an “Award of Excellence.” Instead of the water of the river, Gwyn Wahlmann depicts the things it leaves behind in her work, In the Wake of the Flood (2011), a mixed media piece of wood, textiles, metal, glass, pottery, and fishing line that is a strong compliment to Cerutti’s piece, but stands in its own right, too. Human vulnerability in the face of nature’s power is an age-old theme in art, but Wahlmann uses everyday items that bring the very pertinent experience of a flood to a personal and present level.
Robin Bandy, working in paper, has a lovely piece, Mementos (2011) that includes eight vertical hand-drawn maps, with eight used tea bags hanging directly beneath each map, forming a second, more visceral layer. While tea might be bought as souvenirs on trips to England or India, I can’t help but think of a darker past of imperialism and colonialism, and our country’s own revolutionary connection to that seemingly innocent hot drink. The post-it note paper airplanes in Aaron Heil’s large Mississippi Flyway (2010) is a romantic take on airplane travel in the age of massive airport rules and lines, and, like Bandy’s piece, also engages with international themes of large-scale drifting, of travel and physical movement, so shaped by a past that we can’t touch, but made palpable by these artists by their choice of paper materials.
Photography has an extremely strong presence in the show, with Dustin Lucas’ gripping motel images. In (un) purchased time #13, 14 (2011) Lucas has photographed the outside doors of two motel rooms, their numbers prominently on the white doors. Even with such little information, it is obvious that this is a place that is fading, that is past its prime, that has drifted into something it did not expect to be (perhaps a metaphor for the people staying there?). (Un purchased) #24 (2011) pictures the inside of the rooms, with a close-up of one huge blue bed with three pillows, a table with a corded phone, a remote control, a chair – motel basics. No people, nor signs of them, are evident, but the sense of use, of tired lives, of quick adulterous indulgences, is pervasive. Also without any signs of humans, but rather their stuff, is SJ Hammack’s Railcars Awaiting Repairs #1 and #2 (2010) depicting, as the titles suggest, a fading legacy of industry, or even, to go further back, of pioneering, of breaking ground, throwing back fears, and traveling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed into the west from St. Louis. What are we to do with the leftovers of all of that? Will these railcars ever receive repairs? Or is there something else that we, in the present, have to take hold of, to make our own motion, instead of listlessly holding on to the drfit factor of the past?
“Drift” continues at Art Saint Louis at 555 Washington Ave, St. Louis and St. Louis Artists’ Guild until 19 August, 2011. See www.artstlouis.org for more information.