Discover Jersey Arts, 2014
Catalogue Essay by Mary Birmingham,
A line of clothing pinned to the wall outside Studio X introduces Thea Clark’s exhibition, The Quick and the Deep. These clothes, once white, are now mud and water-stained, as if they have survived a flood; their stains resemble the water lines that marked the properties of Hurricane Sandy victims. By confronting us with familiar objects that have been subjected to the destructive power of extreme weather, Clark invites us to reflect on the personal, tangible effects of cataclysmic events such as hurricanes and floods. Her site-specific installation examines the influence of rapid climate change on human habitats. She explains, “By using quotidian materials that reference the domestic realm, I connect what is familiar to what is uncertain.”
In this exhibition the artist combines home building materials such as asphalt shingles, wood, cyclone fencing, foam insulation, plastic tubing and artificial turf with domestic goods including furniture, clothing, blankets and other textiles. At the center of the installation a battered and upended cupboard leans against a large fabric sphere and balances precariously on a log. Strands of blue cup-shaped forms suspended from the ceiling suggest falling rain; these forms also resemble the buckets that are used to bail water from flooded spaces. The sphere is actually a large accumulation of objects bundled and tied together in the same way that people might pack up their earthly possessions to quickly evacuate a threatened area. It almost resembles a tumbleweed or a snowball that has traveled across the landscape, picking up detritus in its path— clothing and textiles, little bits of turf, and fragments of cyclone fencing, ceiling tiles, and wooden planks.
A damaged section of roofing hangs on a nearby wall. The asphalt shingles are upside down and lengths of blue plastic tubing explode from the structure like disembodied veins or water bursting out of a pipe. A section of plywood simultaneously references both destruction and rebuilding; we are uncertain if what we see is the underlying structure exposed by a storm, or new wood used to patch or repair the damage.
While some of these materials directly reference the effects of extreme weather, Clark also uses them conceptually to add additional layers of meaning. Interested in the ways people respond to natural disasters, and how they treat one another in these circumstances, she created a series of small sculptural objects to explore these ideas. She wrapped white blanket scraps around pieces of artificial turf, effectively swaddling or bandaging them into small bundles that she grouped in the corner of the gallery. Like people hunkering down or huddling together in a storm, these little bundles of turf are poignant reminders of our fragility and need for nurturing; they also hint at regeneration, with their bits of grass protected in blanket cocoons.
Clark, who is well known for her art jewelry, has been using photographic images of trees for the past several years, integrating small cyanotypes on silk into many of her pieces. (Ironically, the cyanotype process, which uses light-sensitive salts on paper to produce blue prints, relies on sunny weather for its production.) In The Quick and the Deep the artist continues her use of tree imagery, but with an ominous tone. During a powerful weather event such as a hurricane or a tornado, trees can become dangerous and even deadly, a fact Clark conveys by incorporating fragments of cyanotypes with bark and branch imagery throughout the exhibition. Additional recurring images include isobars—the lines on weather maps that outline barometric pressure. Linking these two ideas, she notes that the storm systems outlined by isobars on weather maps resemble tree rings.
The artist has created a fascinating series of blue spirals made from window insulation foam and mounted to one of the gallery walls. She was initially attracted to this building material because its color uncannily mimics the dense and luminous blue of glacial ice, and glaciers are central to present-day discussions of global warming and rising oceans. Viewers are invited to look inside these funnel-shaped elements and see isobar fragments; in one they may also watch a video of an edited segment on melting glaciers taken from a weekly television program called Science in Action, which was produced by the California Academy of Sciences and broadcast from 1950-1966.
While there is no actual water in the exhibition, the idea of water as a cataclysmic force permeates the gallery. Clark’s economical use of the color blue is a unifying thread that ties all of the elements together while subtly referencing water as an unseen but threatening presence.
The exhibition’s title plays off the biblical reference to “the quick and dead,” as in the last judgment of souls. Although in the biblical sense “quick” means living, here it also alludes to the swiftness with which weather can turn violent, often without warning. Similarly, the word “deep” has multiple meanings. As a noun it can mean “a vast or immeasurable extent,” but it is also a poetic term for the ocean or the sea. Among its many meanings as an adjective are several that strongly resonate with this show—“extending far down from the surface,” “full of meaning,” “dark in color,” and perhaps most appropriately, “profound.”
The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
2014, The Sunday Star-Ledger, June 8, pg 6, section 4 Art, "Let's get real", Dan Bischoff. "All-Jersey exhibitions in Summit show realism with a sharp edge"
Multiple Exposures Jewelry and Photography, Ursula Ilse-Neuman,
Officina Libraria in collaboration with The Museum Of Arts And Design, New York 2014
Lost Lenses and Orphaned Apertures, Apparatus Transformed, Mark Alice Durant, pg. 196 -
"The cyanotype process is one of photography's earliest incarnations. This anachronistic medium produces images of ghostly shapes surrounded by radiant blues that are so otherworldly compared to the hard-edged contrasts of black and white that the process has never really gone out of fashion. Whether manifesting in necklace, brooch, or wall-piece forms, Thea Clark's work combines shaped pink plastic and cyanotype imagery in a unique hybrid of structure and image, the contemporary and the archaic, the organic and the architectural. Her Root Pendant, for example suggests a kind of living Eiffel Tower that thrusts upward toward the neck and head of the wearer while finger-like roots stretch down to the lower regions of the body. Interlocking cyanotype imagery encircles the pendant, interrupted by a pink stitching that has attached itself to the pattern like a virus. Ideas of identity, health, secrets, and sources of power resonate from this association of forms and materials. Like much of Clark's work, Root Pendant is a deceptively simple miniature ecosystem of organic and cultural references."