Aggregate at St. Louis Artists’ Guild lives up to its name. As “a mass or semblage of particulars,” aggregate is the appropriate word in that the responses artists provide to consumerism and sustainability are truly particular in their concerns and expressions, but also that, shown through the works, it takes individuals to provide a major difference in the mass that we call earth. Through digital photography, installation art, and community involvement, Aggregate does not settle in for a doom and gloom approach, but addresses both problems and solutions.
Seattle-based Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers is an ongoing project in which he takes the kind of boggling statistics we encounter daily (such as, 2 billion plastic bottles used every five minutes) and features them in huge 6×8 feet digital photographs in a way that is meaningful and memorable. For example, Light Bulbs, an eerie space scene with a pitch black background dotted by glowing white lightbulbs and a large mass of them pulsating from the middle in an almost 3D effect, is actually depicting 320,000 light bulbs, meant to represent the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity wasted in the US every minute from inefficient residential usage, according to Jordan’s website. Jordan’s Gyre, its composition based off of the popular print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by early 19th century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, about that many pounds of plastic that ends up in the world’s oceans every hour, with all the trash in Jordan’s image coming from the Pacific Ocean. Even though we are in an information age, Jordan gets at the difficulty of actually comprehending the strangely large numbers that we hear in statistics everyday, and successfully visualizes for us, without condemning us, the massive task that all individuals must take to make a difference in taking care of the earth.
Local artist Gwyn Wahlmann’s response is drastically different from Jordan’s, engaging romantically with memory, the act of collecting, and, seemingly by default, the environmental theme of re-use. Her River Road installation occupies two rooms on the first floor. Wahlmann has truly created an environment, hanging twine and light-colored fabrics from the ceilings and walls, filling cabinets with hand-made teapots from reclaimed materials, animal skulls turned sculptures, and driftwood installations on the walls. The rooms are a delight to be in because they are so thorough, so filled with exactly the kinds of things you would expect an expert river-walker to find, but also because of the dead-on, added details: wooden crosses in all sizes bundled up in a corner, recalling the kind you see on the side of a rural highway, globes that imagined travellers would have carried, mason jars from long-ago pioneers…the imagination grows as viewers re-discover for themselves Wahlmann’s discoveries.
Amanda Pfister’s point-blank photographs of empty, unused car dealerships across the St. Louis area as well as sparse classroom and library spaces lacking people are featured on the first floor for her solo Stasis/Adapting exhibit. It’s not just the empty buildings and rooms that evoke this sense of struggle, of an emotional blankness that comes with over-consumption, but it’s the details: the browning grass in front of the dealerships, the empty parking spots, the signs of former success (“Here 50 years!” – written in neon) and the chipped paint in the classrooms, the chairs turned in a way that once indicated communication and community. Drawing upon the direct photographic style of German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher , Pfister is as equally, if not more so, interested in the telling details of the spaces of the everyday as she is the kind of loneliness, despair, and uncertainty that such empty architectural landmarks in a former land of plenty, however common, leave us to deal with. By displaying nine photographs of local dealerships now vacant, its clear that neither brand (Cadillac, Dodge, Mazda, Ford) nor town (Crestwood, Grandview, Ferguson, Wright City) was left untouched by the stark, still-standing markings of economic failure.
In addition to the solo galleries featuring Jordan, Wahlmann, and Pfister, Pfister, there are three other more widely encompassing exhibits: Sustainability and the Build Environment of the St. Louis Region, a visual, architectural and community-driven look at how St. Louis stands in regard to consumption and conservation (don’t miss Brett Simon’s brilliant, 3 part, Carter Carburetor); Rhythms of the City, a photographic exploration of the city with ten participating artists; and Mason Elementary/Metro High School/ Central VPA High School which includes contributions from local area students.
While the solo exhibitions stand out on their own as strong and well-developed artworks carefully produced with unique visions behind them, the group exhibitions contextualize St. Louis specifically and together allow for a wide-array of local, practical contributions in addition to some art world thematics which visualize – and encourage sustainability in our own backyards.