FREE FALL is a large-scale sculpture installation by New Orleans-based artist Dawn DeDeaux created for Kansas City's international art venue OPEN SPACES led by veteran Artistic Director Dan Cameron. The work tributesParadise Lost by John Milton published in 1667, considered among the world's most important literary offerings. Selections from the epic poem appear on 48 concrete columns, installed at angles as though in a state of fall throughout a quarter mile section of the majestic Swope Park. The text is generated in highway reflective vinyl to offer distinctive appearances that vary from day to night: by day the text reads in subtle pearlescence typography; and by night the verse transforms into a glowing vibrancy before the light of cellphones and headlights of passing cars - creating a moving, ever-changing choreography of light and language.
The main installation is on a ridge in a walnut grove adjacent to the Starlight Theater and Kansas City Zoo (at the intersection of Zoo Drive and Starlight Road). At the top of the ridge a cluster of columns suggest an archeological ruin while others cascade down the ridge face. Additional columns are sited to offer a meandering, intimate walk at woods' edge for more accessible readings. Cellphone light both activates the columns' reflective properties and the barcodes applied to columns to prompt corresponding audio readings.
All text on the columns is verbatim old English used by Milton to write ‘Paradise Lost’ - a secular retelling of the biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve. The book also intertwines the best philosophy, art and scientific discoveries of the 17th century. One finds overture to the classics by Homer and Virgil and cosmological offerings about planets, time and the speed of light inspired by Milton's encounter with astronomer Galileo. The fierce politics surrounding England's Civil War and Milton's personal involvement with the overthrow and execution of Charles I also shape the work's extensive ethical debate.
Among Milton enthusiasts a beloved word coupling in Paradise Lost is "darkness visible" - inspiring the use of highway night reflective vinyl for the text that glows in the dark. In addition to 'darkness visible' as metaphor for Milton's views on hell and politics, here the illuminate text also acknowledges Milton himself and his personal crux - he was blind! One can only imagine the challenge of composing and memorizing his verses by night then dictating from memory by day -indeed making a 'hell of his heaven.”
PARADISE LOST and FOUND TODAY
While centuries-old, Paradise Lost reads with relevance for today, seeming at times to be a more insightful projection of our future rather than a tale of our past. From an environmental perspective it offers a prophetic nature: Are these the days, now, when our earthly paradise is lost?
Other scattered barcodes activate the verse of contemporary rap artists such as J Cole whose lyrical constructs share remarkable kinship to Milton's themes. J Cole offers “If this is anything like heaven, I’d be better off in Hell”; while Milton counsels that “Man can make a Heaven out of Hell and a Hell out of Heaven.” Each author shudders at their visions of the future, claiming in most cases it is “better not to tell.”
The trajectory for project FREE FALL began five years ago with the start of DeDeaux's post-earth MotherShip series. It was first inspired by an interview with the late Stephen Hawking who claimed we had 100 years left, not to save earth but to figure out how to leave. A sampler from DeDeaux's accumulated future-tense multimedia works is now on view at MassMoCA through 2019 in an exhibition titled ‘Thumbs Up for the Mothership’ where she is paired together with artist and musician Lonnie Holley. Other examples will appear in an upcoming career retrospective ‘Between Worlds’ organized by New Orleans Museum of Art
For DeDeaux the falling columns also acknowledge the lessons of history past and present: the fall of civilizations reflected in the ruins of Persepolis, the ISIS terrorist-ravaged site of Palmyra and today’s dismantling of monuments worldwide in the reexamination of wars and heroes.
THE IMMINENCE of FREE WILL
DeDeaux's FREE FALL is also influenced by the view from her home base in coastal Louisiana - the fastest eroding landmass in the world. "This literal 'vanishment' of place is due in large part to the short-sightedness of industry and politics, all supported by the products we individually buy and the people we individually elect. This complicity led me to re-conjure Milton and his identification of the imminence of free will. We either succumb to a fatalistic future or courageously commit ourselves to a bold new course." Milton calls free will the defining characteristic that distinguishes man from other animals and the natural world. According to curator Dan Cameron, 'if we lose our paradise on earth it will be because not enough of us exerted a sufficient amount of our free will to save it."
BEING AND EVERYTHING: POST ART by Dawn DeDEAUX
Essay by Surpik Angelini
Curator / Founding Director
TransArt Foundation for Art and Anthropology / Houston
Long regarded a futurist, artist Dawn DeDeaux’s multimedia, interdisciplinary installations overture art, anthropology, philosophy and science to framework a post human and post anthropocene discourse of extinction. (1)
DeDeaux's Post Art trajectory was sharpened by Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of her habitat and most of her work, and the escalating extinction rate of planetary species. Her art turned more purposely to the materiality of the object, not as a representation of reality as we know it, nor as a found artifact remitting to Duchamp’s "readymades." Instead, DeDeaux embraces an all-encompassing notion of “object" understood as “everything” - an “everything” where even the causality of all things can be fathomed to radiate from the “object” itself into the unknown. (2)
Emerging out of the residue of planetary exile, DeDeaux’s objects are also conceived as a longing, an “algama” (Greek for treasure). With a potentially regenerative DNA for reproducing themselves - anything and everything at any time everywhere - DeDeaux calls to mind Graham Harman's image of an object "like a retrovirus injecting (its) DNA back into every object (it) encounters."
The experience of a “mise en scene” by DeDeaux evokes a subliminal, grander assemblage through the ghostly presence of its parts: rusted tools, shattered glass, debris, charred beams, burned books, postcards, collected ashes, soil from different parts of the world, broken idols, wooden and glass ladders and more. These post-apocalyptic objects no longer belong to the earth’s ecology: they have been excised, cut off, uprooted. But their uncanny appearance paradoxically retain the lost aura Walter Benjamin speaks of in his description of “Art in the Age of Reproduction” - reproduction being key to what DeDeaux’s work entails. Digitally seeping through a translucent printing process, her carefully conjured images reflect the tattered remains of a once-vibrant material world.
The objects DeDeaux selects and reproduces are neither projections looking forward nor memories looking backwards in time. They have lost forever their context. They no longer belong to culture. Culture - like our earth – is pulverized, evoking the sensation of standing in the sands of Egypt, where mineral particles and minute man-made shards mix indiscriminately in the topsoil -- an epiphany-induced observation for DeDeaux while walking through Luxor in 1982, mirroring Jane Bennett's encounter with a trash cluster of plastic debris and a rat on a Baltimore street that sparked the journey towards her seminal book Vibrant Matter.
Before stripping her own objects bare, in the early 1990s DeDeaux set hard focus on the absence of environmental ethics and the engines of extinction - resulting in the groundbreaking immersive media work that premiered at the 1996 Olympics, The Face of God, in Search of; and her first extensive landscape series - Postcards to Teddy Roosevelt while Thinking of Yves Klein - conceived for the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art's exhibition Landscape Reclaimed. In the series DeDeaux appears in self-portraiture, appropriating Yves Klein's daring flight far beyond his own Parisian window and into the deep abyss of American landscapes defaced by unchecked industry; standing in stark contrast to Teddy Roosevelt's romanticized celebration of the west.
Decades later DeDeaux’s Post Art again re-kindles the relevance of Yves Klein’s art, if seen through a post human, post anthropocene perspective. Klein’s anthropometries, his uncanny human silhouettes in blue, can now be understood as visions inspired by the ghostly shadows of post-human scenes on the walls of Hiroshima. Likewise, his announcement of mankind’s future telepathic communication can be seen as a presage of art at the end of time. Through powerful rhyzomes such as these, both Klein’s figurative shadows and DeDeaux’s dematerializing figures that vaporize into the void of outer space can be joined through communicating vessels, transcending the years that separate them, as precursors of Post Art. (3)
To conclude my introduction, I would like to quote fragments of a poem written by DeDeaux after her first visit to TransArt, just over a year ago. Her words seem to have sprinkled the seeds found in her TransArt exhibition Being and Everything.
"..the axis of objects...to reflect all things...
the caves within black holes filled with all matter... congealed into the gestalt...
gestures of humility...
being and nothingness...everything...
we must explore
the small universe
that brought us together."
Surpik Angelini / March 2020
ARTHUR ROGER GALLERY
JANUARY 7 - FEBRUARY 28 2017
BEING AND EVERYTHING
Works by Dawn DeDeaux
Transart Foundation for Art & Anthropology
Through June 21, 2021
Notes from Contributors:
Transart Foundation for Art and Anthropology is pleased to present Being and Everything, an exhibition by regarded national artist Dawn DeDeaux that includes new works-in-progress and selections from the past fifteen years influenced by a string of events including Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill and Louisiana’s vanishing coastline, the fastest eroding landmass in the world.
DeDeaux has been at the forefront of envisioning a post-anthropocene world as part of her decade-long MotherShip Series - with components recently on view at MassMoCA, and throughout the development of her Space Clowns series featured in the Fall 2020 issue of Aperture Magazine. Her work has addressed scenarios such as the current pandemic, the impact of environmental conditions on habitat, and how survivors will adapt to a material and existential collapse.
Throughout her six month residency at Transart, DeDeaux will utilize the galleries as a staging lab to complete works for the final rooms in her upcoming Career Retrospective at New Orleans Museum of Art - The Space Between Worlds - opening in the Fall 2021 concurrent with the city's international triennial Prospect.5. The retrospective will connect her work from the 1970s with its sharp focus on social justice to her latter works that place environmental justice front and center. The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue by Berlin-based publisher Hatje Cantz.