Great Rivers Biennial
CAM, St. Louis, MO, 2016
It has been a minute, since writing. This summer has been moving, for me at least, at borderline lightning speed, rushing ahead without a break, disappearing. I spent the first half of it leaving whenever I could, collecting mini trips like it was my job, hurtling towards a new place before I even had a chance to digest the first, absolutely and literally unable to stand still. Things have calmed down a little, at least, and I find myself in Philly for more than just a few days at a time, and I have to say that it feels kind of nice, even with all of its contrasts. Moving fast feels like a dance at times, a part to play, a badge of honor in a place that honors speed. Sometimes you can get lost in it, forgetting that there is another way at all, forgetting to even come up for air, until something interrupts.
I went to St. Louis a few weeks ago to see friends and to revisit old stomping grounds, and it was the perfect interruption that I almost didn’t know that I needed. I insisted on going to CAM, the contemporary art museum whose openings I used to go to religiously, because my friend Lyndon Barrois currently has work on display there. Lyndon’s piece featured a basketball hoop with a handmade backboard that looked like a painting, delicate cardboard sculptures that looked like people, covered in images pulled from magazines and popular culture, and an asphalt floor that was installed right inside the Museum. Lyndon’s work often deals with memory and memorabilia, a carefully curated collection of handmade objects that is meant to transport you to another place or encourage you to think about race, representation, and culture in a different way, and thus it was important that Lyndon allowed the viewers to stand right on the asphalt, and inspect the work up close.
Lyndon’s work is featured in this year’s Great Rivers Biennial, a Museum exhibition featuring the work of three carefully selected St. Louis area artists. Artist Tate Foley created large sculptural assemblages for the show, using text-based protest language to cover fractured wooden pieces that stood upright on complex supports. The pieces are well designed, almost looking like cut up billboards or pieces of webpages, reminding the viewer of a surrounding culture that is obsessed with language, words on smart phones, more sentences and posts than any one person could ever read, repeated out to the point where it feels a little foreign, and the meaning is open for interpretation.
The last room I inspected was dark, with a few benches in the center, surrounded on three sides by enormous video projections that ran in a loop. I sat in the center with one of my good friends from graduate school, learning later that Nanette Boileau was the name of the artist who created it, and I could not stop watching. The moving figures were caring for cows – or cutting grass, or moving the animals, or giving them medicine. And I could not. Stop. Watching. Even when the footage had something kind of gross in it, like a broken umbilical cord. Even though I literally can’t remember any other time in my life, where I was so fascinated by cows and grass. The farmers and the ranchers and the animals were not in any incredible rush. They moved at their own pace, a speed that was determined by some unknown factor, and I was hypnotized by it. I wanted to be the woman with the video camera, riding around in the mower and asking questions but relaxed, in an arena filled with yellow grass and a bright blue sky.
I haven’t seen any cows while in Philly, or spoken with any ranchers, or mowed any grass. But I have been trying to savor all of it a little more – the last few weeks of summer, enjoying and being present, rather than letting it just run through my fingers, disappearing in a fleeting explosion of heat and light, sliding away right after arriving. And so I had a great time at Great Rivers, in part because I am incredibly proud of my friend, but also because I would have never expected in a thousand years that cows could be capable of teaching me how to stand still.