From a background of social sciences, movement organizing and activism, Santa Fe newcomer Pascal Emmer creates artifact-like sculptures of silica clay in response to fractured systems—the border crisis, violence against our queer siblings, the climate crisis and so on.
The show, Orogenous Zones, is his first solo outing since he moved to town two years ago. In a nutshell, it's inspired by the speculative fiction trilogy The Broken Earth by NK Jemisin, but also a play on words: Orogeny is the geological process through which mountains are formed, though the term "orogenous" is often conflated with the term "erogenous." Emmer hopes to convey the concept of desire through the show title's wordplay.
Further, on a macro level, the pieces are the culmination of Emmer's work, his sense of self and his over-arching feelings spurred by the aforementioned circumstances; Orogenous Zones is a political exhibit, yes, but a very human statement on societal ills, on activism based in burgeoning movements and the ways in which these ideals and movements can help or harm the creation of space for healing within our fractured reality.
"I was drawn to the theme of fracture," Emmer says of Jemisin's books. "In many ways [The Broken Earth is] an Afro-futurist parable about climate change, the literal fracturing of the earth, of ecosystems, but also the figurative fracturing of oppressive systems."
In the books, Emmer explains, certain characters known as Orogenes have the power to cause and quell earthquakes. For this, they're demonized, feared, hunted and locked away. For an organizer like Emmer, it's easy to find parallels between these characters and real-life people living within oppressed systems. The organization Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Emmer says as an example, is fighting against the type of tech that is outwardly meant to eliminate police biases—facial recognition and the horrifying Philip K Dick-esque LASER software designed to predict crimes before they happen—but that seem to drastically target people of color. Emmer worked with that organization last year, one of many, he says, that give him ideas for his work.
The pieces themselves hide the messaging well on a surface level. Ostensibly broken, cracked, flawed and fractured, they're borderline sexual, though that might be a projection of the humorous title. Without denigrating, they almost look like cannoli, though with bright, almost neon colors shining from each. Emmer says it begins with a slab of clay, and through a series of flattening, rolling, shaping and firing, he gets the desired, aged look—cracks and deformations representing both the endings of things, but signifying potential new beginnings. He can predict the final appearance to a degree, but there's room for letting go, for the pieces to become what they will; if something is never broken, it never gets fixed. Also, Emmer says, "as abolitionists would say, it's not that these things we're talking about are failing, they're working exactly as they're designed."
Thus, he calls out the sorry state of police and prisons in America, our rapidly diminishing privacy, the white supremacy hidden beneath these things' thin veneers. It's heady and packed with symbolism and a little unfortunate that Emmer has to explain the pieces so deeply to get to the heart of his statement. They contain an odd beauty, true, but for those who don't bother to go looking, it's hard to convey so much from a mere sculpture.
It's the gathering of so many thought processes for Emmer, an intersection of his personal and professional lives. My best advice? Attend the opening this weekend and ask Emmer to explain how his work came to be. He's fascinating and has put a great deal of thought into it.
"What does it look like when we strengthen our movements?" he asks. "What does it look like to contend with heightened aggression while also holding space?"
These are good questions, particularly since we're skyrocketing past a place where complacency is acceptable. Whether through speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy or even glazed clay, it's good—it's vital—to have conscious artist-activists like Pascal Emmer working toward the light in a time that seems darker than ever.
Pascal Emmer: Orogenous Zones Opening
6 pm Saturday Nov. 2. Free.
501 Franklin Ave. Ste. 4