The impact of monuments and the interpretation of their content and context of history is very present everywhere in America at this time.
On the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, Frederick Williams MacMonnies created sculptures of the heroic groups of soldiers and sailors mounted on the pedestals on the south side of the memorial to the men who fought in the Union Forces during the Civil War. In the center of the grouping on the right there is a crouching African American male figure who seems to be surveying and assessing the battle situation. He is confidently poised holding his gun with his arm comfortably propped up across his knee next to a canon, yet calmly awaiting the action to come. For years I have walked by the monument and had not noticed him but I finally did in March 2018 just before I left for New Orleans to do the residency at the Joan Mitchell Center and he came with me and has been with me since. He is never a victim, for me he is truly the alchemist, the person who transforms or creates through a seemingly magical process, who has the power to transform things for the better.
We are truly in a state of flux, of transformation, ecological, societal, economic. The Liquid Land is simultaneously the site of demise and regeneration. The struggle for control of resources is ultimately the ‘mining’ of our physical and psychological selves through eons of existence. History is always present and perpetual. The paradigm is shifting. The alchemist wields the power to adapt and to be malleable. As with all myths of creation and destruction, the Liquid Land continues to revolve and evolve with the signs and symbols (crescent moons and crosses) of the alchemist incantations manifesting the emergence of the morphing, transforming birds, arising from the source to propagate the future.
* In Trinidadian folklore, there is the tale of the retribution of the gods on one Amerindian tribe (who lived there centuries ago before the arrival of the Europeans, Africans et al) for killing and eating hummingbirds as a way to celebrate victory over another tribe. The gods were furious and called into being the Pitch Lake (lake of asphalt or tar) which consumed the village over night. This origin story has intrigued me since I was a child.
This work was included in the exhibition Alchemy that was on view at BRIC in Brooklyn from June 28th to August 12th, 2018. Alchemy presented seven artists whose work reflects new ways of thinking about the ancient concept of alchemy – the transformation of matter. Employing diverse media, these artists transform non-conventional materials to create visual layered statements about the body, gender, race, and the environment. Their work also manifests the potential for the spiritual to be drawn out from the quotidian world around us. The exhibition included the work of Nicole Awai, Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, Borinquen Gallo, Phoebe Grip, Miatta Kawinzi, Anna Riley and Kennedy Yanko and was curated by Jennifer Gerow and Elizabeth Ferrer.