“Venerate” reflects on the stuff of life
Pools of light create halos around the art on the walls, but the looming mountain of backpacks in the middle of the gallery introduces Venerate: Collectors of the Human Condition with a decidedly surrealistic tone.
The title itself suggests a reflective look at humanity, a way of putting our day-to-day ordinariness into a different light — something a little more precious, even profound, than usual. This outlook gains steam at this time of year as we head into the holiday season with keyed-up sensitivities to family and community.
Schwerd, who studied at Tulane University and now teaches at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, photographed places in New Orleans and modeled her sculptures on abandoned buildings and homes left to the elements. Mingling in the framework of these structures are woven locks of real and synthetic hair, like decoration and support structures that grow and hold it all together.
Many of us tame our hair into submission everyday. The cliché of the bad hair day is like an emotional barometric reading — a frazzled interior is rendered as frizzy tresses on the exterior. Schwerd’s use of hair references traditions especially popular in the 19th century; hair was a material for mourning jewelry and adornments. She revives this with very modern meanings through the connections to individuality, identity and a sense of beauty. All of this is laid over the architectural bones of a community rent apart.
Found objects with a street life of their own are intensely apparent in Schwerd’s sculptures, but the idea is also represented in the drawings and paintings of Marco Zamora. An Los Angeles-based artist and designer, Zamora introduces urban realism within a framework of delicate, detailed line and grayscale tone in his pictures.
Zamora is also the artist of the monumental Back Pack Installation. The pile in the middle of the gallery towers overhead — 10 feet, perhaps even 15? — and brings to mind a herd of students hiding somewhere. It’s an artifact implying lots of people around, but only an illusion as solitary footsteps echo on the parquet floor.
Each bag is individual, each a significant, utilitarian object of everyday life. In the daily grind, it’s easy to get bored with dull things like a backpack, and we opt for the next, novel model. A new color, more pockets, a water bottle included. And what of the old ones? They are disposed of, donated or drift off somewhere else. But there’s something about the confrontation of this towering mass that creates a sense of endurance. They last longer than our sense of purpose for them.
These implications can just as easily be applied to the other “stuff” of life. In a number of large-scale grisaille paintings, Zamora explores this propensity for accumulation. 2020 is a grayed-out image of an older man on the street. He hauls a large pack of God-knows-what on his back. His head and eyes are covered with a baseball cap and sunglasses, and he wears a respiratory mask. It’s like a post-apocalyptic baby boomer nightmare, wandering the streets burdened with possessions of possibly dubious usefulness.
Other pictures, such as Collector, which features a pickup truck piled high with the detritus of life, are additional riffs on this theme. It will all go somewhere, but where, and to what end?
Plunging onward into the holidays, the pleasures and pressures of excess can seem more acute: buy more, eat more, do more. Venerate: Collectors of the Human Condition suggests a spectrum of views on our relationship with possessions: from the way things retain a sense of place and memory, to the enduring physicality yet disposability of ordinary accessories.
The underlying thread of the exhibition is a rumination on the material world of our lives and our condition within it.
Venerate remains on view in the UWM Union Art Gallery (2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.) through Dec. 17. A gallery talk with artist Loren Schwerd will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 2.