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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Art Seen: Chakaia Booker at the ACA Gallery

The Color of Hope, 2010
  • The Color of Hope, 2010

Chakaia Booker's massive, intimidating sculptures are composed almost entirely from used car tires. They may have been on the wheels of a Honda, driven a thousand times from home to work and home again on a boring daily commute from the suburbs. They could have been part of semi-truck, ferrying loads of lettuce from California to Florida in a never-ending caravan of cross-country trips. They might have sat, disused, in a landfill or junkyard for years before Booker came along and put them in her studio. Wherever they may have been before, they are now in the ACA Gallery of the Woodruff Arts Center as part of Booker's solo exhibition, Sustain.

A short statement from the gallery explains that Sustain highlights Booker's use of "sustainable materials," a loaded term as of late. Sure, Booker's work uses recycled media, but it certainly isn't painting a light-green image of our present or future. The shapes that Booker fashions of these tires are ominous and bleak. One could imagine their forms lurking in the shadows of one of Terry Gilliam's dystopian films. The mention of Booker's materials being "sustainable" only reinforces the image of the unsustainable practices that these tires come from.

The photogravures included in the exhibit encourage that feeling, showing the artist foraging through an ashen landscape of trash, picking tires as if they were the only fruit of this devastated garden.

One of the show's largest pieces, "The Color of Hope," plays with a an ambiguity similar to the exhibition's title. The shape of the piece - long, flat, and rectangular - suggests the work is closer to painting, perhaps something by Pollock. The tires swirl across the "canvas" with dizzying movement and texture though without variation from the black color of car tires. The title of the piece is reminiscent of something that could have been said during Obama's presidential campaign, a remark on the thrilling significance of a African American president. Yet, the piece can't quite muster a feeling of unqualified hope. The tires are still reminiscent of the diesel trucks and oil spills that seem to be running our environment into a perilous future. That combination of meanings and references produces an uneasy and discomforting feeling that resonates precisely with viewers trying to be hopeful about today.

Sustain, a exhibition of work by Chakaia Booker, runs until Sun., Aug 29 at the ACA Gallery in the Woodruff Arts Center.

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