Like any contemporary exhibition concerned with the contemporary world, Emergence has much to worry about (and worry in contemporary art certainly isn’t just a contemporary concern). John Feodorov broaches issues of environmentalism, consumerism and a culture disconnected from its roots. But for an exhibition ostensibly about hope—affirmatively titled Emergence and set in the decidedly optimistic Vision Project Gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts—the fate of the world looks pretty bleak.
The exhibition relies on our more cloying cultural markers to set an open-ended, decidedly despairing stage.
A supremely chuckle-worthy piece, “Hybridity No. 3” posits a worn, corn-grinding stone beneath a spread of bright candy corn. Though it’s made with corn syrup, candy corn is probably the furthest away one can get from the food’s source, and is indicative of many of the country’s problems, from obesity to ADD.
In “Ambiguity,” a large teddy bear floats high in the corner. The bear is made from the fluffy, whitish innards of 13 now-deflated, waxy teddy bears scattered below it on the floor. Across the room, on a corner shelf sized to fit it, a white-painted teddy bear sits crooked with a dumb stare. From his head, a light bulb blares with the word “revenge” written on it. Against whom he seeks revenge is unclear. The only certainty is that some bad stuff is going down and the world is in need of saving.
“Oracle” is in no shape to give any answers, either. The work is a painted fox pelt, with a dog neck brace around its neck, hung from an in-turned obedience collar. The fox is bug-eyed in exasperation about its predicament. If the oracle could broadcast a message, it would be through its antennae vertebrae and the speakers speckled like teats on its front.
The exhibition’s titular series is a set of acrylics that deals with the Navajo creation story, in which the Diné emerged from three previous worlds into this forth world through a magic reed. In these works, the reed is replaced by smoke stacks—the very elements that necessitate the escape route. From them, giant faces buoy, terrified with eyes and mouths open. Similarly, people are symbolized as teddy bears, one of the many objects we buy, and part of the overwhelming commercialism that has brought about environmental crises in the first place.
The rest of the exhibition gives no sign that the state of the world will change.
“Domi-nature” is an arc of lacquered, kneeling teddy bears, seemingly praying to a looped, single-channel video projection of a smokestack. In “Genies,” 12 ceramic skulls, like the figures in the acrylic works, gasp for breath, while submerged in 12 mason jars filled with motor oil. Their “emergence” is unlikely, if not futile.
Despite its trappings of optimism, Emergence is terribly dystopian.
The exhibition comments on the bleak state of solutions to environmental crises. It critiques the panacea logic that we as American society espouse: a power source that will fuel our destructive habits into infinity. In short, we demand Hummers and a lot of meat and, by extension, a solution that will accommodate those unflinching desires.
The fifth world—entered through a sooty smokestack and in which we teddy bears are still defined by the items we buy—would already be dismal. Perhaps the point is that there is no fifth world—just this one, and it’s a scary place.